Helping Media Professionals Combat Allegations of Defamation

Defending the right to responsible free speech against charges of libel and slander

The introduction of Web sites, blogs, and social media has encouraged greater communication, but also a greater number of defamation cases. At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our free speech attorneys help citizens, bloggers, and media publishers and their employees defend themselves against frivolous charges of defamation that, left unanswered, would deny the public’s access to freely accessible, accurate information and analysis.

Protecting organizations and individuals against defamation claims

Defamation generally manifests in two forms:

  1. Slander, in which an unrecorded oral statement falsely maligns a person or organization before a small audience
  2. Libel, which is generally considered more egregious in that the statement is recorded and distributable to a larger audience

In both instances, the remarks must have caused injury to the reputation of an organization or person. In a slander case, the plaintiff must prove the defendant has made a false statement about the plaintiff in front of witnesses. In a libel case, the burden is on the defendant to prove his statement was not false. If the plaintiff is a public official or a public figure, they also will have the burden of proving malicious intent.

Understanding the rules that vary from state to state

Laws governing defamation vary from state to state, but Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia laws follow essentially the same precepts. The statutes of limitations for filing a defamation suit are one year in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and two years in West Virginia.

For decades, some businesses and government officials have targeted citizens and organizations who speak out against them with SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). These defamation suits are filed primarily to intimidate critics with the prospect of an expensive court battle. Ohio and West Virginia do not carry anti-SLAPP statutes, but Pennsylvania does, restricted only to persons and groups petitioning the government over environmental issues.

Defenses in Defamation Cases

The attorneys at Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky regularly represent individuals, media, and other organizations against SLAPPs and other defamation lawsuits and help them obtain injunctive relief if not monetary awards, as well as recover legal costs. To learn how we can help you, please contact Ronald D. Barber at rbarber@smgglaw.com.