If you are the target of defamatory statements or comments that have harmed you or your business’s reputation, you may be wondering ‘How much money can you get suing for slander?’.
While there is no established amount you can get suing for slander, there are numerous factors that can influence how much you can be awarded, such as:
- The nature of the defamatory statement(s),
- If you can prove that the slanderer acted with actual malice,
- If you can prove that you or your business suffered financial loss as a result of the slanderous statements,
- The trustworthiness of the evidence and witnesses provided by each party, and
- If you enlist expert witnesses to help establish general damages like emotional distress or reputational harm.
In our experience, most clients’ goal is to remove the content and put an end to defamation; however, some clients also wish to be awarded monetary damages as compensation for their losses.
At Minc Law, we have helped hundreds of clients file successful defamation lawsuits in 26 states and 5 countries. We have also authored more than 22 defamation law state guides, as well as The Complete Guide to Online Defamation— so we are extremely familiar with defamation lawsuit requirements in the United States (and across the globe).
In this article, we lay out the average costs involved in filing a defamation lawsuit, as well as how to calculate damages as the victim of slander. Then, we explain what evidence is needed to successfully obtain compensation for defamation of character.
What is the Cost of a Defamation Lawsuit?
Before jumping into how much you can get, it’s important to first understand the costs associated with filing one in the first place that will decrease any payment or settlement amount from the get-go.
Since filing a defamation lawsuit is not always the right fit for every target of false statements, suing for slander should not be taken lightly. Generally, a defamation lawsuit should be viewed as a last resort after exhausting all other strategies and avenues possible to remedy your defamation matter.
Below, we examine the cost of suing for slander so that you have an idea of a reasonable budget that filing suit requires.
How Much Does It Cost to Bring a Defamation Lawsuit Against Someone?
The question of how much a defamation lawsuit costs is not always a simple answer. When it comes to filing a defamation lawsuit and seeing it through to a point of resolution, the cost is largely determined and influenced several factors, such as:
- Where the defamation took place, how extensive it is, and the specific defamation law(s) that apply to your case;
- How easy it is to identify and find the defendant(s)—and whether they will contest your allegations;
- How well the evidence proves your case and how much discovery is needed;
- The lawyer’s billable rate and fee structure (and the billable rates of any additional local counsel, if needed);
- How long the litigation lasts, the number of court appearances required, and whether time is of the essence;
- A particular court’s filing fees; and
- The amount of monetary damages, legal relief, and/or non-legal relief requested.
Given the variability of the factors above, it is not easy to give an estimate of how much a defamation lawsuit will cost in total. However, based on our accounting data, most defamation lawsuits on average resolve for roughly $15,000 -$16,000 with monthly costs running anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. Contested and other more complex cases can run upwards of $3,000 to $6,000 a month on average and are much lengthier and costly.
Minc Law Tip: The costs of any lawsuit are variable and can be affected by many factors. It is usually best to consult an experienced defamation lawyer for an estimate based on your unique situation. For more information on what to expect financially when filing a slander lawsuit, check out our article: How Much Does a Defamation Lawsuit Cost?. We also recommend reading our Pricing Page for further information on internet-related legal costs.
How to Calculate Damages in a Slander Case
In a lawsuit, damages refers to an umbrella term for any form of monetary compensation awarded to the plaintiff by the court. For defamation cases such as a slander lawsuit, defamation damages refer to the compensation for harm suffered as a result of the defamatory statement(s).
Below, we examine how to calculate damages in a defamation case, the average amount awarded in such cases, and the factors that affect how much you can claim.
What Do You Need to Calculate How Much to Claim as Damages in a Lawsuit For Defamation?
Calculating damages in defamation matters can be difficult, as each state has its own requirements as to what damages a defamation plaintiff is entitled to recover. Additionally, some categories of damages like “reputation harm” and “emotional distress” are generic or nebulous in nature and can be difficult to prove in exact dollar figures if you don’t have evidence of medical records and costs or other hard evidence and documentation or witnesses. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get them.
To start, gather and document evidence of how you have suffered as a result of the slanderous statement(s). Common examples of harm suffered include:
- Medical expenses,
- Expenses incurred to remediate or mitigate damages,
- Lost earnings, clients or revenue,
- Future losses, earnings, or revenue,
- Attorneys’ fees, and
- Other miscellaneous expenses, such as loss or dilution of intellectual property.
Preserve video or other evidence of the spoken defamation if possible, along with screenshots of any messages or comments you received from others telling you they heard or saw the slander take place.
Then, assess any way that the slander has caused a negative change in your life or your business’s bottom line. If you have lost your job or job opportunities due to the slander, preserve any evidence of that fact. Or if the slander has harmed your business, collect evidence of the decrease in revenue, customers, and/or severed business partnerships.
And if the trauma of the slander caused you to need treatment for mental or physical health conditions, preserve evidence of those expenses as well.
What is the Average Amount Awarded in a Successful Defamation Suit?
Because of the wide variety of factors and situations possible, it is difficult to pinpoint an “average defamation settlement” for slander plaintiffs. As emphasized above, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of what ‘success’ means for plaintiffs.
For example, some plaintiffs may want to obtain monetary compensation for the harm they suffered, while others may only want the defamatory content or statement removed or retracted. In our experience, jury verdicts in defamation cases can range from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, upwards to millions or even tens of millions of dollars in certain cases.
There are many factors that can determine the right settlement for your specific slander issue. Such factors may include the nature of the defamatory statements and if you can prove that the defendant made those statements with actual malice. Also, damages may be affected by whether you can prove that you suffered financial loss or other economic damages or whether your state has statutory caps on the amount of certain damages you can obtain.
And finally, your settlement may be affected by the credibility of the evidence and expert witnesses you use to establish that you suffered emotional distress or other harm.
What Factors Affect How Much You Should Sue For Damages in a Defamation Lawsuit?
The amount of damages you should sue for depends on what type(s) of damages apply in your case and the evidence to prove each type. Depending on the jurisdiction, there are a few kinds of damages available in a defamation suit including actual, nominal, and punitive damages.
Actual (Compensatory) Damages
Actual damages, also known as compensatory damages, compensate the victim for the real harm they suffered. Actual damages can be broken down further into either special or general damages:
- Special damages are awarded for economic harm the victim suffered as a result of the libel or slander.
- General damages compensate the victim for the emotional distress and reputational harm they suffered as a result of the defamation.
Nominal damages are more of a recognition that “generally” harm was caused to the plaintiff than a form of compensation. It can include things such as reputational harm and emotional distress that can be hard to prove as a precise amount. These types of damages are intended to show that the plaintiff’s rights were violated, they were obviously harmed some amount of money, and the amount the defendant is required to pay. Sometimes, nominal damage, as the name implies, is a small sum (such as $1), especially if there aren’t great facts showing serious allegations and harm. However, that is certainly not always the case.
Nominal damages often lay the groundwork for other kinds of damages, such as punitive ones, and can be quite high in some cases.
Finally, punitive damages punish the defendant for their defamatory statements. If the plaintiff can show that the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard when communicating the defamatory statement(s) in question, the plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages.
What a Victim Needs to Prove to Establish Defamation
Once you decide to sue for slander, the next step is to gather evidence of how much harm the slanderer did to your personal and/or professional reputation.
In this section, we take a look at the kinds of proof you can use in a defamation case, the possible defamation defenses the perpetrator can rely on, and which party has the burden of proof.
What Are the Grounds For a Defamation Lawsuit?
The key question to answer before filing a defamation lawsuit is whether you have a valid defamation claim. If you do not have a valid claim, there is no reason to move forward.
Defamation refers to a false statement of fact that is communicated to a third party and causes damage to another person or entity’s reputation. It is broken down into two types: libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation).
While the legal elements of defamation may vary from state to state, a plaintiff must generally prove that the following four elements are present to have a valid defamation claim:
- A false statement of fact about the plaintiff,
- The statement was communicated to a third party,
- The statement was communicated at least a negligent level of intent, and
- The statement caused damage to the plaintiff’s reputation.
The Statement Contained a False Assertion of Fact About the Plaintiff
First, the statement made about you must be false. If the statement was merely an opinion (“I hate her” or “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on drugs”), it does not qualify as slander.
Also, a reasonable person must be able to understand that the false statement refers to you.
When gathering evidence, begin by preserving a record of what was said so that you can demonstrate that it is a false statement of fact about you.
The Statement Was Communicated to a Third Party
Next, you must demonstrate that the false statement was communicated to a third party. If the defendant simply made the false claim privately to you, that situation would not qualify as defamation.
If you can, document any proof confirming that other people heard the slanderous statement(s). For example, you may be able to take screenshots of messages or obtain signed affidavits from witnesses.
The Statement Was Made With At Least a Negligent Level of Intent
Next, you must show that the slanderer acted out of at least negligence. A negligent level of intent means that the defendant was not as thoughtful or cautious as a reasonable person would be before making the statement in a similar situation.
Minc Law Defamation Fact: If you are a public figure or official, the burden of proof in a defamation case is stricter You must prove that the slanderer acted with actual malice or reckless disregard, meaning they knew the statement was false and made it anyway, or they made the statement not caring whether it was accurate.
The Statement Caused Damage to the Plaintiff’s Reputation
Finally, you need to show that the slander caused real damage to your reputation. In some categories of defamation (such as slander per se), damages are presumed.
But if your claim does not fall into one of these categories (or if you wish to strengthen your case), you must prove the harm you suffered. Such proof of damage or harm may include:
- Financial loss—bank statements, tax returns, documentation of lost employment opportunities, etc.
- Physical and/or mental distress—medical records showing high blood pressure, anxiety attacks, a depression diagnosis, etc.
- The cost of mitigating the harm caused by the slander—attorney fees, content removal services, PR expenses, etc.
What Are the Defenses to a Defamation Claim?
Before initiating a slander lawsuit, you should be aware that the slanderer may use legal defenses to push back against your claim. The most common defenses to defamation include:
- The statute of limitations,
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and
- Anti-SLAPP lawsuits.
By definition, defamation is a false statement of fact. If the statement cannot be definitively proven true or false, the defendant may invoke the opinion defense.
However, statements that include both opinion and fact are not exempt from a slander claim. If the hearer of the statement can reasonably interpret the statement to be fact rather than opinion, it can be classified as slander.
2. Truth (Including Substantial Truth)
A defamatory statement must not only be a statement of fact, but it must be false. If the statement is true, it cannot be defamatory.
The substantial truth doctrine states that even if the statement contains minor or immaterial inaccuracies, as long the statement as a whole is factually true, the court may determine that the defense of truth applies.
The defense of privilege refers to the defendant’s right to make a statement, regardless of its contents, because of the context of the statement.
Privilege is typically broken down into several core types: absolute privilege, qualified privilege, fair report privilege, and statutory privilege. Common applicable situations include:
- Official, legislative, or judicial proceedings;
- References provided by a prior employer;
- Reports made to the police about a crime; and
- Journalists protecting an anonymous source.
4. Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a time limit placed on a plaintiff’s ability to initiate a legal action. For cases of defamation, the statute of limitations begins running as soon as the defamatory statement was made. The time limit varies by jurisdiction, but most U.S. states require plaintiffs to file their slander suit within one year.
Video: What is the Statute of Limitations for Defamation in the U.S.?
This defense is one of the most important factors that you and your attorney should assess before bringing a slander claim. If the statute of limitations has already passed, there is a strong likelihood that the court will dismiss your case.
5. Section 230 of the CDA
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) is a federal law that provides near-blanket legal immunity for interactive computer services that publish content provided by third parties. For example, search engines like Google and social media platforms like Facebook are generally exempt from defamation lawsuits, since the content aggregated by those sites is published by third parties.
Video: What to Do If You Are Being Slandered or Libeled on Facebook
Minc Law Tip: In the world of online defamation, one of the most frequently asked questions is whether a hosting platform like Google can be sued. In almost every case, it is a much better choice to sue the individual who made the statement instead. For more information, see our article: Can I Sue Google?
6. Anti-SLAPP Laws
Anti-SLAPP laws are legal safeguards to protect against powerful entities from filing defamation lawsuits (commonly referred to as ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’) to intimidate or censor a particular person. Anti-SLAPP laws protect individuals and entities from frivolous lawsuits and promote freedom of speech.
Before you file a slander lawsuit, it is important to ensure that your claim is meritorious and consider whether the defendant has cause to rely on an Anti-SLAPP law to rebut frivolous claims.
To learn in greater detail about the various defamation defenses possible, see our article: The Most Common Defenses to Defamation.
Who Has the Burden of Proof in a Defamation Case?
The “burden of proof” is the responsibility to produce evidence persuasive enough to establish that your claim holds weight. In defamation lawsuits, the plaintiff has the burden of proof and must prove that the defendant acted with at least a negligent degree of intent when publishing the defamatory statement(s).
However, that burden of proof varies depending on their status in society—such as if they are a private or public figure—and if the topic is a matter of public or private concern. For example, a public figure plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice when communicating the defamatory statement(s).
How Hard is It to Win a Slander Lawsuit?
What constitutes “winning” a slander lawsuit depends on your goals. Your ideal result might range from simply removing the defamatory content from the internet to identifying the anonymous defamer, to obtaining monetary damages.
In our experience, in cases where the client’s primary goal is to remove defamatory content from the internet or identify the defamer behind the false statements, we can generally achieve this in 90% of all cases.
But if you wish to obtain a significant sum in monetary damages, “winning” the case is much more difficult and, frankly, costly. You will typically spend more time and resources to bring a case to trial and prove damages while refuting any of the defendant’s arguments.
How to Obtain Compensation for Defamation of Character
If you are the target of slander, you may want compensation for the harm done to you or your business’s reputation. In this section, we examine what kinds of relief you can expect and the best way to obtain compensation in a defamation case.
What Kinds of Compensation and Relief Can You Receive For Defamation of Character?
The types and amount of relief you can expect in a defamation case depend in large part on the specifics of the defamatory statement.
The types of relief and/or damages you can expect to receive usually fall under two categories:
- Monetary compensation and
- Injunctive/equitable relief.
Monetary compensation, or financial damages, include any losses of a monetary nature that are a result of the defamatory publication. Examples include:
- Lost earnings, business, and revenue;
- Future losses; and
- Expenses incurred in the course of legal action.
Monetary compensation can also cover emotional distress. In cases like these, proving emotional distress often requires obtaining the testimony of expert witnesses. And the plaintiff’s credibility also plays a role in whether the judge or jury believes they should receive compensation for emotional distress.
The other type of compensation awarded to plaintiffs in defamation cases is injunctive, or equitable, relief. This type of relief is non-monetary compensation, such as:
- Temporary and permanent injunctions,
- Court orders to remove content, and
- Non-disparagement agreement (for example, one preventing the defendant from publishing the statement in the future).
For most of our clients, removing the defamatory content and stopping the harassment from continuing is typically their main goal. Therefore, they are usually focused on obtaining injunctive relief over monetary compensation.
How Do You Ensure You Are Compensated For Character Defamation?
There are no guarantees when dealing with a defamation of character lawsuit. However, to increase your chances of being compensated for character defamation, we recommend that you work with an experienced defamation attorney.
Follow their advice on evidence preservation techniques and strategies, and make sure that your goals are realistic and achievable.
What Should You Do if the Accused Party Cannot Pay Character Defamation Damages
This is an important consideration that you need to explore with your experienced internet defamation attorney before you file suit. For example, a judgment of $1 million is only worth what you can collect.
An experienced attorney can help you research and investigate the opposing party’s assets or if defamation insurance coverage may be applicable. Often, insurance coverage in defamation matters is rare but we have encountered cases where parties are covered under renters or homeowners insurance policies and/or business policies.
If obtaining compensation is your primary goal and the accused party cannot pay, a judgment will not do you any good.
Consider what “winning” really means to you and if it includes non-monetary relief to be made whole, such as a retraction, public apology, or complete removal of the content altogether (in libel cases).
Is It Worth Suing For Slander?
While you may be concerned about the cost of filing a lawsuit or the potential damages to be claimed if you win, the decision to bring a claim of slander should never be about the money.
Instead, whether suing for slander is “worth it” depends on your unique situation—which is why it is best to consult an experienced defamation attorney who can help you weigh the benefits, costs, and risks.
In the end, we find that most clients feel that suing for slander is worth the cost of their money, effort, and time if it will effectively end the pain and harassment the defamation is causing them.
Work With Minc Law to Sue For Slander
A slander lawsuit is a weighty and potentially very expensive undertaking. Deciding to sue for slander is not one you should make quickly or take lightly. Even with a strong case, it can take many months to reach your ultimate goal—and there is also a good chance that there could be cheaper, faster, and just as effective options available.
At Minc Law, slander and defamation law is at the core of what we do—meaning that we have proven experience and intimate knowledge of all the twists and turns of a slander lawsuit.
“Dayra was so amazing! She replied promptly to all my questions and concerns. She was extremely helpful and worked on my situation very quickly. I would HIGHLY recommend Minc Law. Professional and prompt!!”
Anonymous, Nov 11, 2020
If you have been the victim of slander and want to learn more about your options, contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling (216) 373-7706, filling out our contact form, or speaking with a Chat Representative.