One of the most valuable assets a business has is its reputation. Whether through marketing, employee training, or other initiatives, you have likely invested significant time and money into cultivating a specific reputation for your business.
Unfortunately, there are those who may seek to tear down your business out of jealousy, malice, or even carelessness.
Our commercial litigation attorneys at Miller Law know all about Michigan business defamation cases and how to successfully litigate them. If someone has been telling lies about your business, reach out to us today to discuss your options.
What Is Defamation?
Defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement about another person or entity that causes damage to their reputation.
There are two types of defamation: slander and libel. Slander involves spoken statements, and libel involves written statements. Both are actionable under libel and slander laws in Michigan.
Does Michigan Law Recognize Business Defamation?
Yes! You do not have to be an individual to suffer from defamation. In fact, with the proliferation of online reviews, businesses are frequent victims of libel.
Businesses are also often the subject of slander. For example, a competitor trying to sell their product might tell customers untrue things about your product. Or a disgruntled former employee might spread lies to discredit your business.
An experienced business defamation lawyer can help you protect your business’s reputation from further damage and seek compensation for losses a defamatory statement has caused you.
How Can I Prove My Case Under Michigan Defamation Law?
A business defamation claim consists of several elements under Michigan defamation law.
To succeed on a business defamation claim you will need to show that:
- The defendant made a false and defamatory statement about your business;
- The statement was an unprivileged communication made to a third party;
- The defendant was at least negligent as to the statement’s truthfulness; and
- Your business suffered damage as a result of the defamatory statement.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these elements.
The Statement Is False
The first and most important thing you have to prove in business defamation cases is that the statement in question was false.
No matter how damaging a statement is, truth is always a defense to defamation.
Thus, if the person who made the statement can prove its truthfulness, you will not be able to succeed on your claim.
The Statement Is Defamatory
In addition to proving a statement’s falsity, you have to prove it was defamatory. A statement is defamatory when it harms the reputation of the victim.
For example, the statement may discourage others from doing business with you or negatively affect the way the community views your business.
The Statement Is About Your Business
To seek compensation for defamation, the statement in question must be about the plaintiff that brings the defamation suit.
This means that if someone made a defamatory statement about your CEO, your business would likely not have a cause of action for defamation even though the business’s reputation may suffer as a result.
Likewise, a general statement not directed specifically at your business would not be actionable. For example, if someone made a statement that all mechanics are crooks, you could not pursue a defamation claim simply because you are a mechanic.
The Statement Was Made to a Third Party
To support a claim for defamation, you have to be able to show that the statement was shared with a third party.
If a former employee burst into your private office and accused your business of cheating its customers, that could not be defamation. However, if they started making the accusations in your lobby in front of other clients, it could be.
The Statement Was Unprivileged
The next thing you have to prove is that the statement was made in an unprivileged communication.
A communication is privileged if the person had a special right to make the statement.
The most common circumstance where privilege applies is testimony in a judicial proceeding.
However, there may be other types of communications subject to privilege, such as statements of opinion or certain types of political statements. Privileged statements are protected from allegations of defamation.
The Publisher Was at Least Negligent
Often, a defendant in a defamation suit will try to defend their statement by claiming that they believed it was true. To establish a defendant’s culpability, you don’t necessarily have to show that they intended to defame your business or that they knew they were making a false statement.
But you do have to prove that they were at least negligent as to the statement’s truthfulness.
For example, it may be negligent for someone to repeat something they heard through the grapevine without investigating its source.
The Business Suffered Damage
Typically, damages in the context of defamation must involve actual harm. This may include a wide range of damages under Michigan law , including damage to the defamed party’s:
- Occupation, or
However, when the defendant was only negligent in making the statement, damages will be limited to economic harm. Economic harm includes tangible losses, such as a decrease in profits resulting from the defamation.
To recover intangible losses, such as damage to the business’s reputation, you would need to prove that the defendant made the statement recklessly or intentionally—a standard known as “actual malice.”
What Can I Do About Defamatory Statements on the Internet?
Although online reviews can be a great way to build your business’s reputation, malicious reviews can also destroy it. You may feel helpless to defend yourself against a tide of negative social media. However, internet trolls are not immune from suit under Michigan defamation law.
Many internet reviews are limited to opinions. There is not much you can do about reviews pegging you as “the worst restaurant ever.” But when reviews start to accuse you of fraud or relate stories about your business that simply aren’t true, there may be remedies available to you.
Occasionally, someone with a vendetta against your business can cause a lot of damage on the internet. For example, it’s not unheard of for people to create websites dedicated to defaming someone or to send out mass emails disparaging a business.
If your business is suffering from targeted internet attacks, it’s important that you contact a Michigan business defamation lawyer right away.
Can I Sue a Former Employee for Defamation?
Disgruntled employees are another common source of defamation.
Keep in mind that you can pursue a defamation claim only if someone makes untrue statements. If a former employee is simply airing your business’s dirty laundry, you probably can’t pursue a defamation suit. (Although you might want to consider whether anything they are saying could violate a nondisclosure agreement with your company.)
On the other hand, if a former employee is spreading lies about your business, it’s probably time to talk to a lawyer.
How Can Miller Law Help?
Our experienced commercial attorneys at Miller Law know how to prove business defamation cases. We know how important your business’s reputation is to you, and we want to help you protect it. We are a nationally recognized business litigation firm with nearly 25 years of experience. Contact us today to discuss options for pursuing a business defamation claim in Michigan.