Defamation of Character

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally protects people’s right to free speech, although courts and lawmakers have recognized an exception, for “defamation,” which is a false and disparaging statement that causes harm to another person. State court systems allow lawsuits for damages caused by a defamatory statement. A claim of alleged defamation requires a careful response, both in court and in the public sphere. An experienced Chicago defamation lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations, and can prepare a defense to minimize the claim’s impact on your life.


In lawsuits in which a consumer is asserting claims such as deceptive trade practices against a large company, defamation may appear as a counterclaim against the plaintiff. This could be in response to statements made by the consumer in the course of preparing for the lawsuit. It could also be a means of making the litigation more costly for a plaintiff, or even a way of discouraging a consumer from pursuing a claim at all. Businesses may assert claims that an individual defamed their product or brand, or individuals may allege that an individual defamed them personally. This latter type of claim is known as “defamation of character.” It generally has the same elements as a claim for commercial defamation.

Elements of “Defamation of Character”

To prevail on a claim for defamation of character, a plaintiff must prove four specific elements:

  1. You made a false statement about the plaintiff. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the statement was false.
  2. The statement was made publicly, meaning it could not be in a private conversation between you and the plaintiff. In addition to establishing that others heard or read the statement, the plaintiff must prove that it could be reasonably interpreted as disparaging.
  3. You acted with malice, or with negligence as to the falsity of the statement. The plaintiff must prove that you knew, or should have known, that the statement was false and was likely to cause harm to the plaintiff.
  4. The plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of the statement. This means damages that can be expressed in monetary terms and are directly attributable to the statement.

Defending Against Alleged Defamation of Character

You can defend against a claim of defamation by challenging any of the four elements, particularly by producing proof that the statement is true. If the plaintiff fails to prove any of the four elements, the claim must be dismissed.

Defamation suits might be used to discourage others from making any negative public statements, whether defamatory or not, about a business, organization, or individual. The expense of defending against such a suit may be sufficient to silence people from criticism. This type of defamation suit is known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP. Many states have enacted laws, known as anti-SLAPP statutes, that enable defendants to challenge a defamation lawsuit before incurring substantial expense. Illinois’ Citizen Participation Act, for example, allows a court to strike or dismiss a defamation suit if it finds that the suit meets the definition of a SLAPP. This statute can assist consumers in their claims.

The Chicago defamation attorneys at Nationwide Consumer Rights have represented plaintiffs in claims for consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and other violations of consumer protection statutes for decades. We have also defended consumers against counterclaims such as defamation, which large companies sometimes bring as a means of imposing additional costs on consumers who assert their rights. Contact us today online or at 630-333-0000 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with a defamation lawyer in the Chicago area.

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