There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much it costs to defend a defamation lawsuit. Defamation lawsuits are plaintiff-driven, meaning that the total costs to defend can greatly vary depending on the specific facts of the alleged defamation, the venue, who the opposing counsel is, and countless other factors.
The more moving pieces there are, the more a defendant will spend to defend a defamation suit. The key factors that may affect the cost to defend a defamation lawsuit, include:
- The type of attorney fee structure agreed upon,
- The subject matter of the alleged defamation and the number of publications,
- Whether the plaintiff is seeking monetary relief,
- How long the defamation lawsuit lasts,
- Where the defamation lawsuit is filed,
- Court filing fees and fees for local counsel,
- Fees associated with conducting discovery and depositions, and
- Whether expert witness testimony is necessary.
At Minc Law, we have litigated both sides of defamation claims in more than 26 states and 5 countries. As a result, we have a thorough understanding of the factors that influence the cost of a defamation lawsuit, identifying effective and appropriate defenses to rely on, and anticipating the various sticking points and types of resistance a defendant may encounter.
In this article, we will provide an in-depth look at the costs of defending a defamation lawsuit. We will also discuss tips for finding and hiring an attorney to help with your defense.
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Costs Associated With Defending a Defamation Lawsuit
Every case is different when it comes to defending a defamation lawsuit, so we cannot provide a cookie-cutter, lump-sum figure that applies to your specific case. We can, however, provide some ballpark figures to give you a general idea of the costs involved.
How Much Can You Expect to Pay in Legal Fees When Defending a Defamation Lawsuit?
When filing a defamation lawsuit, we as experienced defamation attorneys, generally have a sound understanding of your (the plaintiff) universe of evidence, how many depositions are required, and what the trajectory of the case may look like. However, defending a defamation lawsuit is typically costlier and less predictable than the cost of filing a defamation lawsuit because you will have to respond to the plaintiff’s requests.
In a nutshell, the plaintiff will drive a defamation case forward, and their strategies will have a substantial effect on the overall cost of the litigation.
At a minimum, you will be looking at $7,500 to $15,000 or more. Add in mandatory filings, depositions and discovery, court hearings, and more, and a defendant may be eying even more. This figure continues to increase exponentially depending on the complexity of your case, how many witnesses are involved, and how long the trial lasts.
What is the Cost Breakdown of Defending a Defamation Lawsuit?
When defending a defamation claim, several different costs may contribute to the total expense of defending. These costs include attorney fees, filing fees, the cost of the lawsuit itself, and monetary damages.
Attorney Fee Structure
Firstly, the cost of your attorney fees will depend on the fee structure used by your attorney. In general, most defamation defense attorneys will charge a retainer fee. A retainer is an upfront payment and the amount needed to cover costs, fees, and other expenses to initiate your legal matter during the first 1-2 months of the lawsuit.
Costs, Fees, & Filings
Throughout litigation, you will need to pay numerous costs and fees. These costs include:
- Initial intake, investigation, and pre-litigation due diligence,
- Research and drafting of a response to the plaintiff’s complaint,
- Court filing fees,
- Process server and additional service costs,
- Local counsel fees, and
- Pre-suit communications and demand letters with the plaintiff.
Make sure to read our comprehensive article answering if an attorney in another state can represent you.
The Lawsuit Itself
There are numerous costs associated with the lawsuit itself, and these costs are highly dependent on whether you are contesting the plaintiff’s claims or not. The more you contest the plaintiff’s claims, the longer the litigation will last and the more expensive your defamation case will be.
Additionally, litigation costs can vary dramatically month-to-month. For instance, in a month where there are depositions, hearings, or other heavy workload activities, you can expect costs to be higher than in months where little work is required.
That being said, your attorney can probably work with you on monthly costs to stay within budget. As long as you notify your attorney what your monthly budget is, they may be able to balance the workload to keep your costs within budget.
Finally, you will need to take into consideration the damages the plaintiff is seeking. For instance, if the plaintiff is seeking $50,000 for business losses, you could be obligated to pay that amount if the plaintiff prevails in the lawsuit.
Factors That Affect the Cost of Defense in a Defamation Lawsuit
The cost of defending a defamation lawsuit is highly fact-specific. It can depend on the circumstances, the venue, and how the opposing attorney handles the case. For instance, one attorney may send you high volumes of discovery requests, which in turn, will increase costs, while another attorney may request less of you.
Other factors that influence the cost of defending a defamation lawsuit include:
The Subject Matter of the Defamation
Is the substance of the content verifiably false or is the substance mixed with both factual statements and opinions? Is it related to only one online post or does it include a barrage of fake online reviews, posts, or comments? The subject matter and the number of publications of the alleged defamation is often a driving factor behind a defendant’s costs to defend.
The harder it is to prove the objective falsity or truthfulness of the statement, and the more “he said, she said” arguments are at play, the higher the likelihood of increased costs for all parties.
Whether the Plaintiff is Seeking Monetary Relief
The amount of damages, or monetary relief, the plaintiff is seeking will affect the cost of defending a defamation lawsuit. If the plaintiff is only seeking an injunction or the removal of defamatory content, the cost of defense will likely be less than if the plaintiff is seeking monetary relief as well.
Further, the longer the defamatory statements or content were online, the potential chance for higher damages sought by the plaintiff.
How Long the Lawsuit Lasts
The longer the litigation lasts, the more expensive it will be to defend. And the length of time a lawsuit takes will depend on several factors such as whether you are contesting the plaintiff’s claims and the number of defamatory publications in question.
For further reading on the factors that affect the length of a defamation lawsuit, we recommend reading our comprehensive guide ‘How Long Does It Take to Sue For Defamation?’
Where the Defamation Lawsuit is Filed
Costs will also vary depending on the state in which the lawsuit is filed. Some states require mandatory hearings that others do not, which will increase costs. Also, some jurisdictions have Anti-SLAPP protections, which may be helpful to your defense, but may cost more money to draft an Anti-SLAPP motion.
Anti-SLAPP laws are in place to protect defendants from frivolous lawsuits filed by plaintiffs seeking to intimate, censor, or otherwise cause them to abandon their lawful conduct.
Court Filing Fees
All courts charge filing fees, but the cost of those fees differs from state to state. Depending on where the lawsuit was filed, you could be facing more expensive filing fees.
Depositions are a key part of the discovery process in a defamation lawsuit. It is an opportunity for the attorney to question the plaintiff and any witnesses under oath to obtain evidence that may be used at trial.
The number and length of depositions can have a significant impact on the cost of defending a defamation lawsuit. If there are many depositions, or if they are lengthy, the attorney fees will be higher. Even if the plaintiff’s suit involves suing a third-party witness, your attorney may still have to attend and be compensated.
The cost of defending a defamation lawsuit can be impacted by the amount of information that is uncovered during the discovery phase. This phase of the legal process is designed to give both sides a chance to gather evidence and build their case. If there are a lot of defamatory publications or they were published a long time ago, it can take longer to collect all of the necessary information.
If a plaintiff’s attorney is extremely active and sends countless discovery requests, costs can quickly add up. However, if a plaintiff’s complaint is bare and non-specific, and they do not issue discovery or push the ball forward, the cost to defend may be significantly less.
Fees For Local Counsel
One of the potential costs associated with defending a defamation lawsuit is the fee for local counsel. Local counsel is an attorney who is licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit is filed. In many cases, defendants who are not based in the same jurisdiction as the plaintiff will retain local counsel to assist with the case.
The fees charged by local counsel can vary widely, depending on the jurisdiction and the experience of the lawyer.
The use of expert witnesses is a common practice in many defamation cases. These professionals are often brought in to provide testimony that will help to support or refute a claim that is being made by either party.
While the use of expert witnesses can be helpful in many ways, it is important to note that their involvement will also impact the overall cost of a case. This is because the experts will need to be paid for their time, and they may also need to be part of the discovery process. In some cases, the number of experts needed can be quite large, which can dramatically increase the cost of a case.
Type of Attorney Fee Structure
The type of attorney fee structure you agree to will also impact the cost of defending a defamation lawsuit. In most cases, you will be required to fund an initial retainer, and then you will be charged by the hour.
Some attorneys may require a higher retainer up front, while others may offer a lower hourly rate. However, it is worth noting that your attorney fees will be highly dependent on the facts of your defamation case and the jurisdiction in which the lawsuit was filed.
How Does the Time a Defamation Lawsuit Takes Affect the Cost of Defense?
There is no set timeline for resolving a defamation lawsuit because every lawsuit is unique. But, generally speaking, the longer a case takes to resolve, the more expensive it will be. Contested cases, in particular, add to the length of the case and therefore cost more to defend. This is because contested cases take a lot more preparation, work, and time.
Other potential factors that can draw out the length of a lawsuit include:
- Court delays or closures,
- Locating and serving the defendant,
- Motions to extend,
- Stay of proceedings,
- Slower-moving jurisdictions,
- Holidays and vacations.
However, based on our experience litigating defamation cases, we have found that the average lawsuit can last anywhere from 6-12 months. More complex and contested cases may take several years to resolve.
How Can the Type of Defamation Lawsuit Affect the Cost of Defense?
The cost of defending a lawsuit can vary depending on the type of defamation involved. Libel, which is written defamation, can be more straightforward to prove than slander, which is oral defamation. This is because there is typically some evidence of libelous statements in the form of a written, preserved record, while slanderous statements being spoken are more difficult to ‘preserve’.
In addition, defamation that was published online can also add to the complexity, and cost, of defending a case. This is because online defamation often reaches more people, potentially resulting in greater damages.
How Does Winning a Defamation Lawsuit Impact Your Legal Costs?
In general, a winning defense will not impact the costs of your lawsuit. However, in some situations, like prevailing on an Anti-SLAPP motion, you may be entitled to attorneys’ fees. This means you will be reimbursed for attorney fees that you spent defending the case.
Typically, a defendant’s “win” is a judgment acknowledging that you did not defame the plaintiff and do not owe them money.
Whether you can request attorney fees will depend on the type of statement in question, the jurisdiction, the parties involved, and whether you have made any counterclaims. Simply put, you may be able to recover attorney fees if you win, but it will depend on the specifics of your case.
What a Defamation Attorney Can Do to Bolster Your Defense in a Defamation Lawsuit
Being on the other side of a defamation lawsuit can be stressful and overwhelming, especially if you acted in good faith when publishing alleged defamatory content or statements. A defamation lawsuit attorney can provide numerous services and strategies to help bolster your defense in a defamation lawsuit and put you at ease.
How Can an Attorney Help You Fight Against a Defamation Lawsuit?
Defamation can be difficult to prove and even more difficult to fight against if you do not have the right attorney on your side. An experienced internet defamation attorney can help you by analyzing the facts of your case and formulating any defenses you may have to avoid liability. The attorney can also advise you on your next steps, help you gather expert witnesses, and explore alternatives to litigation.
Many clients who are not familiar with the litigation process are surprised by the costs associated with fighting a defamation claim, but an experienced attorney will be able to anticipate these costs and help you budget for them.
How Can You Best Assist Your Attorney When Defending a Defamation Suit?
The best way to assist your attorney, and keep costs down, is to provide them with evidence in an organized, chronological timeline. If you approach an attorney with hundreds of documents that need to be sorted through, that will add to their workload and increase costs.
Simply put, the better organized you are, the more you can keep costs down.
What Are the Most Common Defenses Against a Defamation Lawsuit?
While defamation laws vary from state to state, there are several common defenses to defamation that can be raised nearly anywhere. It is important to familiarize yourself with these defenses to increase your chances of success when defending against a defamation claim. An experienced defamation attorney can help you identify and explore all potential defenses to defamation you may rely on to avoid liability.
The most common defenses to defamation include:
- Truth: if the statement at issue is at least substantially true, there can be no liability for defamation.
- Opinion: if the statement is an opinion that can be neither proven nor disproven, the defense of opinion might apply.
- Absolute and Qualified Privilege: some types of speech, like topics of public interest, are legally protected from defamation claims.
- Consent: if the plaintiff consents to the publication of the statement in question, they cannot prevail in a defamation lawsuit.
- Statute of limitations: a lawsuit must be filed within a specified time after the incident which gave rise to the claim. If the plaintiff did not file their lawsuit within the defamation statute of limitations, it may be dismissed by the court.
- Statutory defenses: certain defenses are prescribed by law, like Anti-SLAPP statutes.
- Other Lesser-known defenses: some defenses, like the libel-proof plaintiff doctrine, are used infrequently today but may still be available as a defense depending on the circumstances of your case.
What Monetary Damages Can a Plaintiff Recover in a Defamation Lawsuit?
A plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit may be able to recover damages for any losses that they have suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions. These damages can be either economic or non-economic in nature. Economic, or actual damages, include any financial losses that the plaintiff has incurred, such as lost wages or medical expenses.
Non-economic damages, or general damages, are more difficult to quantify but can include items such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
In some cases, a plaintiff may also be able to recover nominal or punitive damages. Nominal damages are a small amount of money awarded to the plaintiff to recognize that they have been harmed, even if that harm is not quantifiable in terms of economic loss.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish the defendant and deter future wrongful conduct. These damages are typically only awarded in cases where the defendant’s behavior was particularly egregious.
How Can You Reduce Your Chances of Being Sued For Defamation?
First and foremost, it is important to always be truthful in your statements. As mentioned previously, truth is a defense to defamation.
Secondly, if you are stating an opinion, be clear that what you are saying is merely your opinion and should only be interpreted as such. Even so, you should try to remain as truthful as possible, even when stating an opinion.
What Are Some Situations Where Your Attorney Might Try to Facilitate an Out-of-Court Settlement in a Defamation Lawsuit?
More often than not, civil lawsuits, such as defamation lawsuits, are settled out of court before ever reaching trial. Typically, plaintiffs just want the defamatory content removed, a retraction, or an apology – which can be achieved without going to trial.
Some jurisdictions, like Texas and Florida, even require that plaintiffs send a retraction demand letter before litigation commences. If the defendant does issue a retraction and removes the defamatory content in question, they may be able to avoid a lawsuit or mitigate potential liabilities.
Moreover, many cases can be resolved through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), like mediation or arbitration. This is often a quicker and more cost-effective alternative to litigation. Depending on the jurisdiction, ADR may even be required before the case goes to trial.
However, settling a case before trial will necessitate compromise from both parties. An experienced defamation attorney can help you identify areas of potential compromise and may be able to help you avoid litigation.
How to Find a Defamation Attorney to Defend Your Defamation Lawsuit
Being on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit can be stressful and overwhelming. It may be confusing to know where to look for help, but it is important to find an experienced attorney who focuses on defamation law.
A defamation lawsuit attorney can help you combat the charge of libel, slander, or defamation that you are facing. They will also be able to advise you on the best course of action to take in order to protect your reputation.
How Do I Go About Hiring a Defamation Attorney to Defend a Lawsuit?
Defamation is a complex and nuanced area of law, so it is important to hire an attorney who has experience handling these types of cases. Many national and state resources can help you find the right attorney for your defamation matter, including:
- Online databases like Avvo, Martindale-Hubbell, Lawyers.com, FindLaw, and SuperLawyers.com,
- Your local attorney bar association,
- Your local legal aid society, and
- Referrals from family, friends, and co-workers.
However, we understand that even those databases can be overwhelming, so we have compiled several articles on the topic to help you find the best defamation attorneys. Check out our guides to defamation attorneys in Ohio, New York, or anywhere in the United States. to learn more.
What Questions Should I Ask to Determine if They Are a Good Fit For My Case?
Once you have a list of potential attorneys, you will want to interview each attorney to find the best fit for you. We recommend asking some of the following questions:
- Do you provide a free consultation? If not, how much does one cost?
- How long have you been practicing law?
- How much experience do you have with defamation law? What is your success rate?
- Have you been the subject of disciplinary action? (Note that you can also find this information on your state’s bar association page.)
- What are your fees, and how are they structured?
- What additional costs may be involved beyond your fees (filing fees, postage, copy fees, etc.)?
- How often will I be billed?
- How will you inform me of developments in my case?
For more questions to ask, review our 33-question checklist for hiring a defamation attorney.
How Can Minc Law Help Defend Against a Defamation Lawsuit?
At Minc Law, we know defamation laws in and out, whether you are pursuing a defamation lawsuit or defending against a defamation claim.
Because we have litigated defamation suits in more than 26 states and 5 countries, we know what it takes to win, and defend a defamation lawsuit. As a result, we can anticipate the other side’s moves in advance, so you can develop the best possible defense and response strategy.
“Absolutely phenomenal. Michael took care of every single issue of defamation. I was concerned about wording because of the public nature of all parties involved, but Michael had open communication and approval from me all along the way. I will suggest him to absolutely anyone.”
June 20, 2022
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