Slander laws are in place to deter someone
from defaming another person by the spoken word. Slander laws
differ from those laws pertaining to libel, in that libel is written
defamation of character and slander is spoken defamation.
According to most slander laws, the highest
level of defense against a slander claim is the "truth"
as defined by the courts. Another defense to defamation actions
For example, statements made by witnesses in court, arguments
made in court by lawyers, statements by legislators on the floor
of the legislature, or by judges while sitting on the bench, are
ordinarily privileged, and cannot support a cause of action for
defamation, no matter how false or outrageous.
Most jurisdictions also recognize "opinion" as a logical
defense. A person's opinion has to be clearly separated from the
assertion of fact. For instance, if someone you just met, who
knows nothing about you calls you a "deadbeat" this
most likely will be regarded as opinion since it has no basis
in fact. A few jurisdictions, though, have eliminated the distinction
between opinion and fact and in this case one must be well aware
of the slander laws that prevail in a particular location.
According to most slander laws there is another defense similar
to "opinion," which is "fair comment on a matter
of public interest". If the governor is allegedly involved
in some sort of kickback scheme or other form of corruption and
you say that you believe this to be true, a slander suit will
not hold water in court.
Most slander laws also recognize "innocent dissemination"
as a defense as well. According to "innocent dissemination"
a defendant may unknowingly transmit a slanderous statement and
not be held liable such as misinformation thought to be true on
a ham radio.
In New York Times vs. Sullivan, the courts decided that public
figures have the added burden of proving a statement to be slanderous
by including "actual malice". False statements may be
made about public figures, but if a judge or jury decides that
no "actual malice" has taken place then no slander has
Not all slander laws are about defaming people. Food slander
laws are even in place in about 10 states, which make it a crime
to defame food products without a scientific basis. A group called
Pure Foods Campaign (PFC), decided to rebel in Georgian in Boston
Tea Party fashion and dump Diet Coke, NutraSweet (aspartame) and
rBGH-enhanced milk onto the pavement in protest. The constitutionality
of such food slander laws though is in question.
Slander and libel are both under the umbrella of defamation of
character. Defamation of character is considered to be a personal
injury. If the defamed party actually gave permission for the
statements to be made, there is no defamation. If, however, no
permission was given, then an injured party may be entitled to
recover damages for loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering,
and reasonable medical expenses, including both current and projected
Slander laws may differ somewhat from state to state so it is
important to check your locale's specific laws whether you're
plaintiff or defendant in such a case.