Every blue moon we citizens get to watch the trial of the century. These past several weeks have focused on the Depp v. Heard trial, which recently resulted in a jury verdict finding defamation by both parties. The trial allowed the general public to glimpse into the private life of an uber-famous celebrity. It also allows an opportunity to learn about defamation, libel, and slander.
Texas law was not at issue in Depp v. Heard, but it will sound familiar to those who tuned in to the trial. Defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement that injures the reputation of another. Libel occurs when defamatory statements are published, and slander occurs when they are spoken. The jury in Depp v. Heard was asked to determine whether the parties published or republished the defamatory statements. In Texas, republishing statements happens when someone adopts the statements as their own. One can also be held liable for defamation in Texas by overtly agreeing with defamatory statements made by another.
In order to be defamatory, the statements must communicate false facts. Many people mistakenly believe that opinions can never be defamatory. This is not true. When an opinion asserts a fact, for example, “I think John Doe is a filthy liar,” it is still a potentially defamatory statement. This is so because one can prove whether or not John Doe is in fact a liar. Saying, “that movie was horrible” is a subjective statement. Another person could easily think the same movie was fantastic, funny, or not so bad.
Defamation is a complicated, fact-intensive claim. The entire context of a statement is examined, including whether or not the audience would reasonably perceive the statement to be made in jest, to be exaggerated, to be a joke, or to be true as stated. The contents of the evening news are expected to be true, but comedy skits are generally expected to be exaggerated. Inquiry will also be made into whether the defamed person is a public figure, how inflammatory the statements were, whether the statements were defamatory on their face, to what extent the plaintiff was particularly identified, the intent of the speaker, and more.
Not many cases are like Depp v. Heard where the plaintiff is well known, the statements made about him were highly inflammatory, they were published to a wide audience, and resulted in demonstrable and significant monetary loss. Mr. Depp’s case is similar to a common type of defamation claim, business defamation. In such cases, a business is disparaged, its reputation is tarnished, and it often experiences a loss as a result – be it a decrease in business, or the cost of taking remedial measures. If this has happened to you or to your business, it would be wise to contact us. Your reputation is valuable, and deserves to be protected.