The law of defamation consists of two separate torts:
The general distinction between libel and slander is that libel is based on the publication of a written communication, a communication that embodies the words in a physical form, or some other means of communication having the likely harmful qualities of defamatory printed words.
Slander is based on the publication of defamatory matter by spoken words, transitory gestures, or any form of communication that is not sufficient for libel.
The interest protected in a defamation action is a person's right to remain free of the harm caused by another's writings, utterances, or other communications that are false.
The minimum elements of a defamation action that the plaintiff must allege and prove are as follows:
- that the defendant made a defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff,
- that the statement was false, and
- that the statement was published to a third person causing injury to the plaintiff.
An essential element of any defamation claim is that the alleged defamatory communication must be false. Publication is also an essential element of a defamation action. Publication is the communication of the defamatory matter to a person or persons other than the one claiming to have been defamed.
Unless it is Slander or Libel Per Se (see below) you must also prove pecuniarily loss as a result of someone's defamatory comment or post. If your action is not supported by pecuniary loss neither ridicule, humiliation, public contempt, loss of reputation, emotional distress, nor humiliation alone will suffice.
The Supreme Court distinguishes between the three classes of libel:
- Libel per se, which is defamatory upon its face;
- Publications susceptible to two interpretations, one of which is defamatory and the other not;
- Libel per quod, which is defamatory only when considered with explanatory circumstances, innuendo, or colloquium.
Libel per se
Libel per se is based upon published writings, printings, signs, or pictures that are susceptible to but one meaning and are of such nature that the court can determine, as a matter of law, that they tend to injure the person's reputation.
The person's reputation is injured by a publication that tends to disgrace and degrade the person, to hold him up to public ridicule and contempt or to cause him to be avoided and shunned.
The court, in determining whether a communication is libel per se, uses a reasonable person standard and looks, as ordinary people would, at the plain meaning of the publication on its face.
Dual Meaning Libel of Dubious Validity
The second class of libel is said to arise when the plaintiff alleges that the communication is susceptible to two interpretations - one defamatory and the other not.
This three-tiered categorization of libel, with the second tier consisting of statements capable of having both a defamatory and a non-defamatory meaning.
Libel Per Quod
The third class of libel is termed libel per quod. This class of libel involves a statement that is not on its face defamatory, but which when considered in light of inducement, innuendo, colloquium, or explanatory circumstances becomes defamatory. When libel per quod is alleged, the plaintiff must plead and prove inducement, innuendo, colloquium, or special circumstances, and special damages.
Slander is based on the communication of defamatory matter by spoken words, transitory gestures, or any form of communication that is not sufficient to make out libel.
North Carolina courts recognize two classes of slander: slander per se and slander per quod.
Slander per se
The elements required to establish a claim of slander per se are that:
- The defendant uttered defamatory statements that tended to prejudice the plaintiff in his reputation, office, trade, occupation, or means of livelihood or to hold him up to disgrace, ridicule, or contempt;
- The statement was false;
- The statement was published to and understood by a third person.
Slander per quod
Slander per quod exists when the words are not defamatory as a matter of general acceptance, but are only injurious in consequence of extrinsic facts.
Index of Relevant Terms:
- Absolute Divorce
- Contributory Negligence
- Imputed Negligence
- Defenses to a Negligence Lawsuit
- Driving and Texting in North Carolina
- Emotional Distress
- Punitive Damages
- Res Ipsa Loquitur
- Short Sale
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Truck Accidents
- Wrongful Death
- Wrongful Discharge from Employment