Defamation is a statement made to a third party about another, whether written or oral, which "tends to injure the plaintiff's reputation and expose the plaintiff to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or degradation." Phipps v. Clark Oil & Ref. Corp., 408 N.W.2d 569, 573 (Minn. 1987). Defamation claims have three basic elements:
1). a defamatory statement;
2). that statement is "published" to third parties; and
3). the statement is one which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false.
False statements about a person's sexuality or sexual conduct, a trade or business, or concerning the contraction of a "loathsome" disease, are considered defamatory per se. This means that the statements concern issues so serious that damage to one's reputation is presumed to have occurred. If not defamatory per se, then you must prove an injury to your reputation.
The false statement in question must also be published i.e. communicated to another. This element is usually satisfied and not an issue in a defamation action.
Truth of the matter is a complete defense to a defamation claim. No matter how damaging to one's reputation, true statements cannot constitute defamation. The general substance of the statement determines whether it is true or false, not any technical error or detail. The speaker or publisher is held to the same standard of care in a defamation action as a defendant in a negligence action. If the speaker or publisher knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that a statement was false, then liability can attach.
Defamation claims are further complicated by the notoriety of the subject and the subject-matter of the statement. For matters of public concern or where the subject is a public official or figure, the subject of the statement must prove the speaker or publisher had actual malice or displayed a reckless disregard of the truth in making the statement.
Additionally, the viability of a defamation action may also depend on the context in which the statement was made (in a lawsuit, for example); whether any privileges apply; whether the statement constituted an opinion; whether the subject consented to the statement; and many other issues. The experienced attorneys at WLG can help you determine whether you have a claim for defamation in your particular situation, or help you defend against a defamation claim against you.