How Effective is Defamation Law in California?

By: JML Law | November 11, 2017.
How Effective is Defamation Law in California?

Numerous sexual misconduct allegations that are gripping Hollywood have brought defamation back into the forefront of the national debate.

Lawyers argue that while many of the sexual harassment, abuse, and rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other celebrities and powerful men in California are probably true, there are also those who make untrue allegations because there’s money at the end of this rainbow.

In these cases, defamation applies. But how do you sue someone for defamation in Los Angeles, and why do so few celebrities choose to sue media outlets and accusers for defamation during Hollywood’s arguably most prominent sex scandal in history?

These are the questions we asked an experienced defamation attorney at JML Law, one of the leading law firms in Los Angeles that have represented both celebrities and mere mortals to win seven- and eight-figure settlements in defamation suits in the past 35 years.

What does California law say about defamation

First of all, it’s important to understand what statements are considered slanderous (oral defamatory statements) or libelous (written defamatory statements) under California defamation law.

In order for a statement to be considered defamatory in Los Angeles, it must be unprivileged.

Thus, you cannot sue privileged parties for defamation. Under federal and state laws in Los Angeles, privileged publications include:

  1. general news reporting and investigations (those that provide proper evidence of their allegations or cite “sources”)
  2. certain materials subject to judicial review
  3. other reports related to government officials.

In fact, things get complicated if you’re a public figure, as you must prove that the defendant intentionally lied and defamed your reputation in order to cause damage. Private figures, on the other hand, only need to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.

Why don’t celebrities sue the media for defamation

This answers the question of why celebrities and other public figures don’t bother to sue news publications and commenters on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube.

Because the legal process behind defamatory lawsuits involving celebrities and public figures is too complex to prove the actual malice on the part of the defendant. Besides, it would mean suing multiple defendants (perhaps even hundreds) in one related case of alleged defamation.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible to win a defamation lawsuit against publications as most of them cite unnamed “sources” whose existence cannot be verified. Besides, if a celebrity is suing a defendant for defamation, other unpleasant details (the so-called “dirt”) may be found and leaked to the media.

So celebrities, for the most part, try to avoid defamation suits unless it’s something serious, explains a Los Angeles defamation attorney here at JML Law. However, celebrities – such as Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein – whose careers may be destroyed by the alleged sexual misconduct claims could still benefit from contacting an experienced defamation lawyer, as they have nothing to lose.

What damages can be recovered in defamation lawsuits

Under state defamation laws in Los Angeles, you can recover the following types of damages if defamation on the part of the defendant is proven in court:

  1. actual damages
  2. compensatory damages
  3. punitive damages
  4. emotional distress damages.

Contacting a skilled defamation attorney may help save your reputation and prevent accusers from destroying your career. JML Law has handled hundreds of defamation lawsuits in the past 35 years, helping clients recover damages in seven- and eight-digit settlements.

Get in touch with a Los Angeles defamation lawyer at JML Law by calling 818-610-8800 or sending an email for a free case evaluation.

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