If you want to bring a defamation action, the first thing you must prove is that your opponent made a statement about you that damaged your reputation. This is often a highly contentiously litigated issue. Generally, only a statement of fact or that necessarily implies a fact is actionable. For example, if another person were to falsely state that you lied during a specific business transaction on a particular date and time and that you therefore cannot be trusted, this would be a defamatory statement. This statement asserts a (false) fact that would clearly bring your reputation into disrepute.
However, statements of opinion about another person is not actionable. For example, stating that you are a “jerk” (or using saltier language) is not actionable. Likewise, stating that someone is “terrible,” “not nice,” or the like would likewise be non-actionable.
An interesting question arises when one states negative opinions that necessarily imply underlying facts. Calling someone a “jerk” might imply defamatory underlying facts, but might not. That statement would not be actionable. On the other hand, calling a businessman “dishonest” states an opinion, but depending on the context, that opinion might imply underlying facts that would certainly be defamatory. Whether statements of this type will be actionable depends on a number of factors, and it is not possible to render an opinion on its actionability absent a full review of all of the facts surrounding the statement, as well as the parties and their relationship.
Michael L. Kitchen
Disclaimer: This blog is for information purposes only. Legal advice is provided only through a formal, written attorney/client agreement.