What is Slander?

What Are My Legal Rights If I’m a Victim of Slander? | What Are Defenses to a Slander Claim?

What is Slander?There’s a common misperception that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all forms of speech. In fact, there are a number of exceptions that are not protected by constitutional free speech rights, including speech that is deemed obscene or pornographic, speech that incites illegal conduct, speech that violates copyright or trademark protections, and speech that is considered defamatory.

Slander Is a Spoken Form of Defamation

Defamation is oral or written communication that contains false statements that injures a person’s reputation. The communication must be made to a third party. It is not defamation if you make a false statement to another person but no one else hears or reads it. When defamation is in writing, it is referred to as libel. When spoken, it is known as slander.

What Is Slander?

Though slander is commonly thought of as an oral defamatory act, the definition is actually a little broader, encompassing all forms of defamation that are not in a fixed form such as a sound recording, video, or writing. Slanderous statements are temporary or transitory, rather than permanently fixed, and may include gestures, as well as spoken words. To be considered slander, the statement must be untrue and must be communicated to others as though it were true. Statements that are conveyed as opinions are not slander, and neither are true statements.

What Are Some Examples of Slander?

A slanderous statement must be untrue and must reasonably have the potential to damage another person’s reputation. Examples include:

  • Untrue statements that a person was convicted of a crime or that they committed or attempted to commit a crime
  • Untrue statements alleging that a person committed perjury or otherwise lied under oath
  • Untrue statements that a person is having an affair
  • Untrue statements that a person has a sexually transmitted disease
  • Untrue statements that a person had sought treatment for substance abuse
  • Untrue statements that a person had engaged in domestic violence

Can I Sue Someone Who Slanders Me?

Slander is a tort, or civil wrong, in all jurisdictions. Accordingly, a person injured by slander may file a lawsuit for damages against the person who made the false statement. To successfully prove slander, the injured party must show:

  • The defendant made a communication to a third party;
  • The communication alleged an untrue and unprivileged statement of fact;
  • The statement could reasonably be construed to apply to the plaintiff; and
  • The communication caused the plaintiff to suffer injury or loss.

It’s important to understand, though, that different standards may apply depending on whether the person alleging slander is a private individual or a public figure.

Statements About Private Individuals: When the plaintiff is a private individual, the defendant may be found liable if the slanderous statement was:

  • Intentional—The defendant knew the statement was untrue;
  • Reckless—The defendant made the statement with a reckless disregard for whether or not it was true; or
  • Negligent—The defendant failed to act reasonably to determine the truth or falsity of the statement.

Statements About Public Figures: If the person about whom the statement is made is considered a public figure, the defendant can be found liable only if the statement was made intentionally or recklessly.

Is Slander a Criminal Offense?

Currently, only 13 states have statutes that allow for prosecution of criminal defamation: Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In these jurisdictions, however, it’s rare for a defendant to be found guilty and sentenced to jail, as the burden of proof is significantly higher in a criminal case.

What Types of Damages Are Available in Slander Claims?

A plaintiff with a defamation claim can typically seek the same kinds of damages as are available in other personal injury claims:

  • Lost wages, income, or earnings
  • Any unreimbursed medical expenses, including the costs of psychological or emotional counseling
  • Damages for physical, emotional, and mental pain and suffering, including loss of reputation or standing in the community, or any shame, embarrassment, humiliation, or disgrace caused by the false statement
  • Loss of companionship or consortium, including damage to a relationship or marriage or loss of contact with family or friends who believed the false statement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life caused by anxiety or depression

What Defenses Are Available to Allegations of Slander?

The defenses available generally correspond to the elements that must be proved to show slander:

  • The truth is an absolute defense—If the factual statement at the center of a slander claim can be verified as objectively true, the claim will not succeed.
  • Statements of opinion are not slander—A jury may, however, look at all the circumstances and conclude that a purported statement of opinion was actually a disguised statement of fact.
  • Statements made with the consent of the alleged victim are not slander.
  • Statements that are not communicated to or heard by a third party will not be slander.
  • Privileged communications are not slander—Communications may have either absolute or qualified privilege. Absolute privilege applies to statements made during judicial proceedings, statements by certain government officials, statements by legislators while in session, statements during political broadcasts or speeches, and statements made between spouses. Qualified privilege generally exists for certain statements in governmental reports or by governmental officials, testimony during legislative proceedings, statements made in self-defense or at the defense of others, and statements included in reviews that are considered fair criticism.


Slander is a form of defamation that is typically spoken, rather than written down or otherwise appearing in a fixed medium. If such a statement is in writing, it is considered libel. A slanderous statement must include an untrue assertion of fact and be communicated to a third party. A person whose reputation is injured by slander may seek damages in a civil lawsuit. In a minority of U.S. states, slander may be prosecuted as a crime, but such instances are rare.

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