Florida authorities announced yesterday they would not prosecute Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, for simple battery against a journalist. Last month Lewandowski was charged when video evidence showed him grabbing journalist Michelle Fields after she attempted to ask Trump a question.
Though these charges have been dropped, Fields may still file a defamation case against the campaign manager. Lewandowski repeatedly called Fields a liar over details of the incident. After the incident, she left her job for lack of support and was even forced to flee her home after receiving death threats when news agencies accidentally published the entire police report that included her home address.
Defamation, libel, and slander are all forms of personal injury. Defamation occurs when someone makes false, injurious and offensive remarks about the victim with the intention of hurting the victim’s character and reputation. Slander is short-term defamation, and libel is defamation that appears in concrete forms like printed writing, pictures, or TV ads.
Defamation, libel, and slander can cause a business to lose customers and income, can cause a person to lose their job, and can spread false rumors that disrupt family and personal relationships of the victim. Personal injury law allows victims to recover monetary damages for loss of business and income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and humiliation. Victims can also recover punitive damages if the act was done with malicious intent.
These cases can be difficult to prove. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, virtually allowing anyone to say anything they want. In order to have a successful defamation, libel, or slander case, the victim must be able to prove that the false statement resulted in serious injury to the victim. Victims may also need to prove that a false statement was issued with malicious intent to harm to the victim.
Today we most commonly read about defamation, libel, and slander cases between celebrities and gossip magazines. But the first major defamation case was New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). The New York Times published an advertisement that contained a description of oppressive conditions in Montgomery, Alabama. The court ruled in favor of the New York Times, writing that to claim defamation the victim has to prove that the language was published with knowing falsity and reckless disregard for the truth.
There are now four categories of per se defamation, libel, and slander that do not requre proof from the victim. These include accusing someone of a crime, alleging that someone has a foul or loathsome disease, adversely reflection on a person’s fitness to conduct their business, and alleging serious sexual misconduct.
One of the most famous cases was the England-based case against Greenpeace activists Helen Steel and David Morris. The pair stood outside a McDondalds and handed out pamphlets that made multiple allegations against the company and claimed that the food was unhealthy and consumers should not eat there.
It took ten years for McDonalds to win the case, only to have the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Steel and Morris were not given a fair trial. It was also discovered that an undercover police officer had infiltrated Greenpeace and contributed to the leaflet.
Due to their particular characteristics, not all personal injury attorneys will accept defamation, libel, and slander cases.