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Professional Indemnity: What is defamation?

Defamation litigation can harm your business reputation and can quickly rack-up legal costs. Learn how you can prepare against potential cases below

Back in 2015 Sean Penn filed a 10 million dollar lawsuit against Lee Daniels, creator of TV show Empire, later settling for an apology and sizeable charitiable donation. It makes you wonder what could have caused such a massive lawsuit? In a word, defamation.

What is defamation?

But what does that mean exactly? Put simply, defamation is defined as any false information spread intentionally to damage the reputation of someone or something else – in this case it is the reputation of a single person but it could also be a business, religion, country, or even a product. Sean Penn claimed that by comparing him to actor Terrence Howard (known for being involved in several domestic violence incidents), Daniels had indirectly accused him of domestic violence and therefore damaged his reputation.

In everyday life, social media can be a hotspot for defamation. The capability of people on social networks to share information on a mass scale makes it very easy for false information to be disseminated very quickly across an enormous network of people.

It is important to note that defamation is distinct from verbal and other kinds of abuse. Unlike the latter, defamation generally refers to false statements made in a public manner to someone other than the person being defamed. Defamation is a serious offense with often serious consequences.

What if I believe someone has defamed me or I am being accused of defamation?

If you find yourself in the middle of a defamation case, there are a number of options available including exploring an amicable resolution, the use of mediators or seeking legal assistance for resolution – the path you choose will depend on the severity and validity of the claim. If you are unsure consult your legal adviser – if you do not have one, shop around as many firms offer a first consultation free. If you have an insurance policy that covers defamation, contact your insurer or insurance adviser as soon as possible.

For the victims, the consequences of defamation can be catastrophic. For businesses, reputational damage can lead to massive monetary losses and for individuals reputation damage can be financially crippling as well as heartbreaking. Apart from lost income, the legal costs involved in defamation cases can be debilitating for both individuals and businesses. The right insurance cover can help protect your reputation and allow you to you financially weather a defamation case.