Defamation is the legal term for making a false statement about another person. It can be true or false, and it can be made by a privileged person or by a normal person. Here are some examples of when false statements are allowed as defenses to a defamation claim. You must be able to show that the statement was true.
First, absolute privilege protects certain statements. While statements are not protected in defamation claims when they are made by a public servant, they are often protected by the first amendment. Therefore, if you believe that a particular statement was made under privileged circumstances, you cannot sue someone else for defamation. This privilege applies to government officials and to compelled publications and broadcasts.
If a public figure claims defamation, it needs to prove that the statement was made with actual malice. This means that the statement must be true in a substantial way. Additionally, the statement must have caused a direct and special injury to the victim of the defamation. The first two criteria must be met before the claimant can proceed against another public figure.
Another valid defense to a defamation lawsuit is based on the plaintiff's failure to prove the accuracy of the statement. To make an assertion against a public figure, the plaintiff needs to show that the statement was intentionally or negligently published. If the public figure does not have sufficient evidence to prove the statement is false, the plaintiff will lose. Defamation law does not require proof that the public figure did not intend to make it false, but the plaintiff must prove that the publisher did.
Rhetorical hyperbole is another defense to defamation claims. First Amendment protection for the right to free speech also protects a person from claims based on opinion. In the landmark Letter Carriers v. Austin case in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a union could not sue its member for using the term "scab" for a defamatory statement.
There are also privileged statements and communications that are legitimate defenses to a defamation lawsuit. These privileged statements are often spread within the workplace for legitimate reasons. These reasons include common interest and employer references. An employer could discuss an employee's behavior with management. The employer would be justified in spreading these defamatory statements to others if it was necessary to protect the employer's reputation.