What Are Defamation, Libel & Slander in South Carolina?

As defamation lawyers in Charleston, we know how important your reputation is to you. If someone makes false claims or accusations about you or your business, these statements can damage your relationships and cause you to lose business or your job. At Futeral & Nelson, our lawyers have handled many cases of defamation, libel, and slander in South Carolina. in this article, we will explain what is defamation, defamation per se, libel, slander, and the criminal and civil laws that apply to these types of cases.

What is Defamation in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, defamation is false communications about another person, business, or organization that are likely to cause harm to another’s reputation. The elements of defamation are:

  1. a false and defamatory statement concerning another;
  2. an unprivileged publication to a third party;
  3. fault on the part of the publisher; and
  4. either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication.’

What is Defamation Per Se in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, some statements can be so harmful that you do not need to prove material damages. There are five categories of statements that are defamation per se:

  1. commission of a crime of moral turpitude;
  2. contraction of a loathsome disease;
  3. adultery;
  4. unchastity; or
  5. unfitness in one’s business or profession.

What is Slander in South Carolina?

Slander is a form of defamation that occurs when someone speaks, with malicious intent, a false statement about another, and those statements cause injury to another’s reputation or character.

What is Libel in South Carolina?

Libel is a form of defamation that occurs when someone writes, with malicious intent, a false statement about another, and those statements cause injury to another’s reputation or character.

Is Slander or Libel a Crime in South Carolina?

Yes. Under Section 16-7-150 

Any person who shall with malicious intent originate, utter, circulate or publish any false statement or matter concerning another the effect of which shall tend to injure such person in his character or reputation shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction therefor, be subject to punishment by fine not to exceed five thousand dollars or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or by both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court; provided, that nothing herein shall be construed to abridge any right any person may have by way of an action for damages for libel or slander under the existing law.

Although slander and libel are crimes in South Carolina, this law is rarely enforced.

Can You Bring a Civil Lawsuit For Defamation in South Carolina?

Yes. You can sue the person or company that made defamatory statements for the following relief:

Damages: You can file a lawsuit to compensate you for the damage that they caused to your reputation.

Injunctions: An injunction, either temporary or permanent, is a court order prohibiting or compelling a specific act to prevent irreparable damage or injury to the plaintiff in a lawsuit for defamation. For example, an injunction may prohibit a person from making false claims and compel that person to remove defamatory states from social media.

What Are The Types of Damages for Defamation in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, there are three categories of defamation – general damages, special damages, and punitive damages.

General Damages – In South Carolina, general damages in a defamation action include injury to reputation, mental suffering, hurt feelings, and other similar types of injuries which are not capable of a definite monetary valuation.

Special Damages – Special damages in a defamation action are damages that cover measurable economic losses resulting from the false statements.

Punitive Damages – Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, accomplish 3 purposes:

  1. To punish the defendant’s conduct;
  2. To deter similar future conduct by the defendant or others; and
  3. To compensation the plaintiff.

Is 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech a Defense to Defamation in South Carolina?

No. The First Amendment does not protect false ideas or false statements of fact.

Can You Get Sued for Defamation in South Carolina for Statements of Opinion?

Yes. In Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990), the United States Supreme Court gave a prime example of how an opinion may constitute defamation:

If a speaker says, “In my opinion John Jones is a liar,” he implies a knowledge of facts which lead to the conclusion that Jones told an untruth. Even if the speaker states the facts upon which he bases his opinion, if those facts are either incorrect or incomplete, or if his assessment of them is erroneous, the statement may still imply a false assertion of fact. Simply couching such statements in terms of opinion does not dispel these implications; and the statement, “In my opinion Jones is a liar,” can cause as much damage to reputation as the statement, “Jones is a liar.”

What Are the Defenses to a Civil Lawsuit For Defamation in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, there are two main defenses to a claim for defamation:

  1. Truth – The truth of the matter is a defense to an action for defamation.
  2. Conditional or Qualified Privilege – a defendant may assert a conditional or qualified privilege as a defense in a defamation action when the statements were made in good faith and with proper motives considering the occasion for making the statement and the parties’ relationship. Examples include statements made: (a) in governmental reports of official proceedings; (b) by lower government officials such as members of town or local boards; by citizens during legislative proceedings; or in self-defense or to warn others about legitimate harm or danger.

Contact Our Defamation Lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina

Our defamation lawyers can help to stop the harmful statements about you and help you recover your losses. Contact the lawyers at Futeral & Nelson for a case review today.