If you have been accused of libel, you may want to know the defense known as "substantially true." This defense can end your defamation case quickly and easily, if you can prove that the statement is substantially accurate. The court will not consider minor factual inaccuracies as material differences, if they do not affect the overall truth of the statement. Here's how to use the substantial truth defense.
In a recent case, a former customer's online review of a contractor was not defamatory, even if it was true. The challenged statements were "substantially true." Jomari Alexander was hired by Laurie Ball to paint a portion of her home and replace light fixtures. He bought a $100 light for her bathroom, but charged her $250 to install it. The two got into a dispute over the light. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $25,000 in damages.
Another case that deals with the issue of whether statements made by a media outlet are "substantially true" or not was Alexander v. North Eastern Railway Co., in which the defendant had published an article which stated that the plaintiff would spend three weeks in jail if he didn't pay his fine. However, in the actuality, the relevant period of imprisonment was only two weeks. Thus, the defendant argued that the publication was substantially true and failed to adequately describe the applicable penalty.
This ruling was affirmed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on June 20, 2021. In other words, if a statement is "substantially true" and a reasonable person can infer it is true, it is protected by the substantial truth doctrine. In some cases, the statement is an online review, for example. It can also be a libel complaint. But in some cases, the plaintiff's pleadings should specify exactly what they mean by "substantially true."
The law requires that a statement be "substantially true" in order to defeat a libel action. It does not require that the entire statement be "substantially true" in order to establish a substantial truth. The defendant also needs to show that the plaintiff has consented to the publication of the defamatory matter. Unlike most cases, where the plaintiff needs to prove the statements are "substantially true," the defendant can also make the statement substantially true, without consent.
Defamation is an action for false statements. The courts consider the truth in a defamation case to be an absolute defense. In the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan decision, 376 U.S. 254, the same applies to a lawsuit for defamation. Moreover, even if a plaintiff can prove that some facts are untrue, the defendant must prove that the majority of them are true.