Your reputation is important and worth protecting. If someone makes negative comments about you or your business, you may wish to consider a defamation lawsuit.
What is defamation?
Defamation is the communication of a false statement that is harmful to a person or business’s reputation. There are two different types of defamation:
- Libel – A written or recorded defamatory statement that leaves a permanent record.
- Slander – An oral defamatory statement that does not leave a permanent record.
Depending on the circumstances, defamatory conduct can include comments on social media (e.g., Facebook or Twitter), negative business reviews posted online, statements made to the press, or statements made to colleagues or clients.
What do I need to prove in my defamation lawsuit?
You must prove three elements to show that someone defamed you:
- The statement complained of referred to you or your business;
- The statement was made or published to a third party (that is, someone other than you); and
- The statement is defamatory in the sense that it would tend to lower your reputation in the mind of a reasonable person.
If you establish these three elements in a libel lawsuit, the law presumes the words are false and that you have suffered general damages. However, in a slander lawsuit, it may also be necessary for you to prove actual damages.
Defences to a defamation lawsuit
A common defence is that the statement complained of is true. If the defendant can prove the truth of the statement, you cannot recover damages. Other defences include absolute privilege, qualified privilege, and fair comment on matters of public interest.
What compensation can I seek?
There are several different types of defamation damages:
- General damages compensate for loss of reputation and injury to feelings. The amount is based on factors such as the seriousness of the defamation, your standing in the community, and how widely the statement was published (e.g., printed in a national newspaper, broadcast on TV or across the internet).
- Special damages include out-of-pocket expenses or business losses, but you must prove and quantify these damages.
- Aggravated damages can be awarded if you prove the defendant acted with malice.
- Punitive damages can be made to punish a defendant whose misconduct is so serious that it offends the court’s sense of decency.
- Other relief, such as an injunction or retraction, may be available.
How do I bring a defamation lawsuit in BC?
Regardless of the amount of money or type of damages you are seeking, your defamation lawsuit must be brought in BC Supreme Court, not Small Claims Court. Your lawsuit must be started within the two-year limitation period that begins to run from the date the defamatory communication was made or discovered. We highly recommend that you consult with an experienced civil litigation lawyer if you think you or your business has been defamed.