I'm gonna SUE!

Never having personally sued someone before, what steps should I take in order to sue someone for slander? Yeah, I need a lawyer, but what kind of lawyer? What kind of fee am I looking at? Can the attorney (or, at least, the courts) gain access to private corporate papers?

Likewise, if you’d be so kind, explain what slander is and isn’t, from a legal point of view. I’m sure it’s not as simple as it would appear at first blush.

Without getting into too much detail, a fellow told a bald-faced lie about my actions, the lie has been well-documented (as truth), there is other documentation which proves that the fellow lied, the lie has cost me money, and there is documentation that the man knew it would cost me money. Is this sufficient grounds for me to make a serious effort at taking the old boy out behind the woodshed? If not, what else might I need–I can probably get it.

That said, I am aware that most of you are not lawyers and none of you are my lawyer.

Help a poor, put-upon brother out!
Oh, and… uhhh… no, this doesn’t involve the SDMB (or the interwebz at all, for that matter.)

  1. The OP seems to be seeking general information about defamation law and the sorts of lawyers who handle that kind of case. Those answers are fine in General Questions. I’m going to ask posters to refrain from answering this part of the OP:

The answer to this question is that you need to talk to a lawyer.

  1. Soulfrost, we’re going to need to know where the heck you are in order to offer much help.

General Questions Moderator

I’m not an attorney. . .

Technically (on paper) you have a valid claim, based on what you said. But we would need to know the details, which would give us a clue as to the reality of the situation. In reality, you need to have a case that will be able to convince a Jury to award you money, regardless of the black letter law. Slander and libel cases (slander especially) are always balanced against 1st amendment rights, and adding to the difficulty of proving damages and proving the person actually said ‘it’, very difficult to litigate.

Contact any “personal injury” (tort) lawyer, as this is a potential tort case. The yellow pages are chock full of 'em.

You’ll want a lawyer who specializes in libel and slander (or defamation).


Both of these sites, and others like them, allow you to post information for review by a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction or to search for a lawyer who specializes in a specific area of law:


My advice is that many attornies will allow a free first consulation where you can outline your case. Get a phone book and start making calls. Ask if they have handled slander cases. Find an attorney who is familiar with the law you want in your area and will give you a free consultation on your specific case. Have your evidence and your questions ready for the meeting.

IANAL, but I know that defamation is a difficult and specialised area of the law that most lawyers know little about. So you need to find a lawyer who specialises in the area if you want much more than a “cease and desist” letter to the person slandering you.

(Though you can get lucky: back in Australia, one of my friends was a city councillor who was sued for defamation, and he used as his lawyer another friend of mine who was a solicitor specialising in personal injuries and workers’ compensation. The case got appealed up to the High Court of Australia, and in the end my friends won – with the help of a barrister, as you usually need if you go up to that level – because my friend the solicitor knew more about the relevant law than the lawyers representing the plaintiff.)

What state do you live in? Laws about the type of acts you described vary greatly depending on jurisdiction. As a general matter, “defamation” includes both slander and libel – Slander is that which is spoken, and heard by at least one third party. Libel is when it’s written down and published to some third party. Alternatively, when someone else interferes with your contractual relations by making false statements, it may be characterized as “tortious interference with contract.” Other causes of action may exist and vary by state law.

Statements of opinion are rarely actionable defamation; for example telling someone - “I think he is a shitty plumber.” Even if you could prove that you received the Plumber of the Year award, it would not be defamatory in most circumstances.

You basically want some kind of tort litigator – like a personal injury attorney, but with a more generalized practice cover all sorts of civil harms. Typically, these types of attorneys work on contingency (they take a portion of your winnings if you win; if you don’t win you pay them only relatively minimal fees specified in your retainer). Because of the way they’re paid, attorneys on contingency usually only take on monetarily worthwhile and legally substantial cases. Consultations are usually free.

You can also get referrals from your State or City Bar Association, often there is a minimal (~$30) fee for the initial consultation through the referral service.

The main thing about the suit is you have to PROVE it was malicious in intent and to collect damages it you must prove it was with the intent to injure.

For instance, if I don’t like my company and I make up things that appear to be facts but are lies and this causes the stock to go down, then that is malicious. But if I did it soley 'cause me boss wrote me up, then it’s unlikely anyone could get damages. Those were just an unfortunate after effect.

Now suppose I made up, what appeared to be facts, but were lies and I posted them on the Internet. Now I bought a put to make money off the company when the stock declines.
This is easy to prove and I’d likely be liable for damages.

As one poster noted, opinion in the USA is fiercely protected. This is why newspapers have editorial pages. This way if they can’t “prove” something, they shift it there and reword it. This is almost 100% protected.

For example if I say “Brad Pitt is a jerk and I encourage everyone reading my message on this board to boycott all his movies now and past.” Suppose everyone reads this and says “Yes, Mark is right, I’ll never see another Brad Pitt movie” Even if Pitt’s career tanks and he can’t ever find another job, there’s nothing Brad Pitt could do. If I think Brad Pitt is a jerk that is my opinion and I can say it whenever and wherever I want.

Now if I said “Brad Pitt was a child molester” and people stop seeing his movies, he’d have a much stronger case for libel and getting damages. Because “child molester” can be proven or not. Being a jerk is soley an opinion.

So you need to ask yourself, “Can I document the actual money lost?” If so, then ask yourself, “Could this loss have occured without the statement made about me?” If not, then you need to be able to prove this to a judge “Why” the loss could’n’t have happened as a result of anything else.

Then ask yourself were the statements an opinion? Or were they presented as a fact?

Finally were they true or did they have any truth to them? Truth, in America (but no in all countries) is called an “absolute defense.” And that is pretty much true. If it’s true, with few exceptions you can say it, print it, etc.

What if it is something like “I think Billfish678 is a pedophile (or wife beater or dog beater)”, along with some here’s why I think so thrown in ?

First, I chose those three, because those are “socially” very serious, not like being a slob or crazy or alchoholic or rabid conservative/democrat.

Does the “think” part get them off the hook?

And, if I could prove no actual monetary loss, could Billfish678 get any money for the shear indignity of it?

No. They have to prove actual malice, which is a different concept, and it’s not required in purely private cases. http://www.umt.edu/Journalism/student_resources/class_web_sites/media_law/libel.html

Usually doesn’t work.

Fact vs. Opinion: Setting the Record Straight


OK, good–tort. Thanks. I hadn’t thought of that.

I live in Missouri. I figured that defamation law was similar to copyright law and was a federal thing. So, two bits of ignorance fought so far.

Thanks for the links, Gfactor! Those’ll help.
Hello… the gentleman in question stated several times that I took a definite, specific action (sorry, can’t tell you what due to corporate privacy concerns). He also wrote it down and signed his statement (though I don’t suppose that counts as libel, since the statement is not intended for publication.) There are numerous others, also eyewitnesses, who have stated that the definite, specific action was not taken by anyone. Beyond that, we’re probably getting into IMHO (or the Pit) territory.
Thanks for your time, all–I’d love to hear anything anyone has to add.

One more for the road: Legal Aid At Work - free legal services for workers

Groovy! Still trying to soak all of this up. Thanks again.

For the pragmatic among us, what does this mean? Wold the cost have been sufficient to have sent you on vacation for a couple weeks? Take a month off? Buy a new vacuum cleaner? Lunch at Denny’s? A car?

Where is your cash/personal vindication line? Worth getting awarded less than you spend just to hit the woodshed? Or does there need to be some serious duckets left over for you to go through the hassle?

The actual cash value is just under $1000, and I’d be satisfied with taking that loss, plus paying a modest attorney fee / court cost just to have it proven in a court of law that the man is a known liar, or, at least, a liar in this particular instance. At least then he could never victimize me or anyone else again on his way up the corporate ladder. Of course, if I can get my grand back, I’ll be a happy fellow (and more than a little smug.)

Bluntly put, if he were to just cut me a check for the full amount lost, no deal. A public apology and the check, then we could probably work something out.

For $1000 in damages, you’d have to pay a lawyer by the hour. I’d say, check out the resources that I linked to, and talk to a lawyer. But you’ll probably wind up in small claims court.

IANAL either, but hold on thar.

“A lie that costs you money” in not necessarily slander. Slander, as I understand it, is a lie that damages your reputation – an assault upon your character.

I imagine it might be possible to tell lies that cost you money, but are not assaults upon your character. “I happen to know that Soulfrost is sold out of that widget – but I have some you can buy”. It was a lie and it cost you money, but I’m doubtful it would be considered defamatory.

Here is an excerpt from an online legal dictionary I found.

Sorry for any confusion, “publication” in this sense just means that some other person, other than you or the writer, read it.

Go forth and seek legal advice!

Thanks, everyone, for your help. I feel that I’m well-enough informed now to speak with an attorney without being ashamed of my ignorance.