Defamation Laws

Defamation laws in the United States are built around the fact that one person's words can damage another person's reputation and cause significant financial fallout as a result. However, what you don't say can also land you in legal hot water. Here's more information about a legal concept called libel by omission and how to defend against this type of lawsuit.

Libel by Omission Basics

Unlike regular libel and slander where the focus is on how what a person says harmed another person, libel by omission focuses on a person's failure to include material facts or vital information that leads people to infer untrue things about the affected individual. For instance, your boss asks whether your co-worker helped you with a project. You say no but fail to mention that the other employee had been hospitalized. If your boss infers your co-worker shirked his or her duty and punishes the person as a result, the employee could come after you for libel by omission because you failed to include a material fact that led your boss to make an untrue assumption about your co-worker.

This type of lawsuit is often leveled against news and magazine organizations that frequently write or report stories about people. However, anyone who relays information to the public sphere about individuals (private or public) and companies can potentially be hit with a lawsuit under this tort, including bloggers and YouTube journalists.

Defending Against a Libel by Omission Lawsuit

Possibly the main defense against a libel by omission lawsuit is to show that the omission of the material information did not create a false or misleading impression.

For instance, the Washington Supreme Court sided with a news organization after a local store owner sued them for failing to include material facts in a report about how the business had a mentally disabled man arrested. The disabled man had threatened and harassed the businessman, something the news agency failed to say when it first reported on the story. The store owner said that failure led to him being perceived as a bully. However, the court found the omission of the information didn't make the report false or amount to the level of defamation required to prevail in court.

Another option for defending against this type of lawsuit is to show the omission did not damage or worsen the plaintiff's reputation. A plaintiff can only collect compensation if he or she can prove harm to his or her standing in the community. If the omission did not or could not expose the person to hatred, ridicule, or contempt (as is required to prove defamation), the plaintiff might not win any damages and/or the case may be dismissed.

There are several other ways to defend against this type of lawsuit. It's best to consult with a personal injury attorney for assistance with handling a defamation case.