Defamation In California

Defamation requires a false statement made by one person about another person, which causes harm to a person’s business profession or occupation. The key element is that the statement needs to false.

Truth as an absolute defense to a claim of defamation

If the statement is true, then you cannot file a defamation claim, no matter how hurtful it is or the harm it may have caused. Truth is an absolute defense

The Opinion Defense

Similar to truth, opinions are also not defamatory. But what constitutes as an opinion? While the answer is more complex, a general rule of thumb: If a statement is based on truthful statements and those truthful statements are disclosed in their entirety in such a manner that an average reader can reasonably ascertain that the speaker or author of the statements is only expressing a personal viewpoint, then such a statement would be considered as an opinion.

The important factor to consider is whether all the underlying facts formulating the opinion are disclosed.

Rhetoric Hyperbole

Similar to the opinion defense, any statement which reflects colloquial speech is also not defamatory. For example, calling someone a “son of a bitch” does not mean you are insulting ones mother or calling her a bitch, or even that person a dog. However, depending on the circumstances, if the speaker continues to explain why the person is a son of a bitch, those statements (if untrue) can be defamatory.

Public Figures

Wonder why politicians cannot sue newspapers for defamation? The law requires that public figures must also prove the statement was made with “actual malice.” This means, public figures must prove the person making the statement knew the statement to be false and intentionally did so despite the fact. However, the standard of proof to provide a showing of malice is high (which involves provide a showing of careful planning and execution), and the burden of proof is on the plaintiff.

Thus, even if statements are false a public figure would also need to show that the defendant maliciously spread the rumors. Therefore, a politician cannot sue a newspaper over false allegations (e.g., of corruption)  unless they can also show that the reporter maliciously published those statements.