An Alabama jury has awarded $7 million to an Iranian owner of a Toyota dealership whose competitor told customers the Plaintiff funded terrorism, and that buying a car from him amounted to killing American soldiers.
Libel and slander are the two types of defamation cases. Libel refers to written defamatory statements, whereas slanderous statements are verbal ones. For a person to successfully sue for either type of defamation, he must prove that the defendant made false statements about him which caused damage to his reputation.
In most cases, the person bringing suit (Plaintiff) must show actual proof of actual special damages. However, no specific damages need to be demonstrated in cases of libel per se. Idaho courts have provided the following definition of libel per se:
“In order to be libelous per se, the defamatory words must be of such a nature that the court can presume as matter of law that they will tend to disgrace and degrade the person or hold him up to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule or cause him to be shunned and avoided; in other words, they must reflect on his integrity, his character, and his good name and standing in the community, and tend to expose him to public hatred, contempt or disgrace. The imputation must be one which tends to affect plaintiff in a class of society whose standard of opinion the court can recognize. It is not sufficient, standing alone, that the language is unpleasant and annoys or irks plaintiff, and subjects him to jests or banter, so as to affect his feelings.’”
Gough v. Tribune-Journal Co., 73 Idaho 173, 179, 249 P.2d 192, 195 (1952)
If the defendant in a libel case is a public figure, the Free Speech clause of the U.S. Constitution requires that the Plaintiff not only prove that the statements were false, but that the Defendant made the statement knowing they were false, or with “reckless disregard for the truth.”