Libel vs. Slander vs. Defamation – What are the Differences?

The terms libel, slander, and defamation are frequently confused with each other. They are all similar in that they all fall into the same general area of law that concerns false statements which harm a person’s reputation. This general area of law is called defamation law. Libel and slander are types of defamatory statements. Libel is a defamatory statement that is written. Slander is a defamatory statement that is oral.

Historically, the distinction between libel and slander was significant and had real-world implications regarding how a case was litigated including the elements that had to be proven and who had the burden of proof. Illinois courts have changed their approach, however, as the Illinois Supreme Court explained in Bryson v. News America Publication, Inc.:

At common law, libel and slander were analyzed under different sets of standards, with libel recognized as the more serious wrong. Illinois law evolved, however, and rejected this bifurcated approach in favor of a single set of rules for slander and libel. Libel and slander are now treated alike and the same rules apply to a defamatory statement regardless of whether the statement is written or oral.

The tort of defamation (sometimes referred to as defamation of character) can be divided into claims involving two distinct types of statements: defamatory per se statements and defamatory per quod statements. Statements that are defamatory per se (sometimes referred to generically by courts as libel per se) are so obviously and naturally harmful to one’s reputation on their face that proof of injury is not required. Illinois law recognizes five types of statements that are considered defamatory per se:

  • Imputing that a person committed a crime;
  • Imputing that a person is infected with a loathsome communicable disease;
  • Imputing that a person is unable or lacks the integrity to perform one’s employment duties;
  • Imputing that a person lack ability or otherwise prejudices one in one’s profession; and
  • Imputing that a person has engaged in adultery or fornication.

Importantly, a statement can only be considered defamatory per se if the harmful effect is apparent on the face of the statement itself. If extrinsic facts or additional information about the person being defamed is required to understand the harmful effect of the statement, then it cannot be defamatory per se. That is not to say the statement is not defamatory if extrinsic facts are required; it just cannot be defamatory per se.

If a defamatory statement does not fall into one of the defamatory per se categories or requires extrinsic facts, then it is considered defamatory per quod. Unlike in cases involving defamation per se, defamation per quod claims require the plaintiff to allege and prove special damages (also called “special harm” by some courts). The term “special damages” or “special harm” is a legal term of art in defamation law that means the loss of something with actual economic or pecuniary value. In other words, a plaintiff alleging defamation per quod must be able to show specifically how the defamation caused a specific, quantifiable loss of money such as the commission from a lost sale or the salary from a lost job.

Defamation law continues to change and evolve. Defamation attorneys must have extensive knowledge of First Amendment and other aspects of defamation law to effectively prosecute claims for businesses, professionals and individuals who have been defamed. The attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle have over thirty years’ experience defending and prosecuting defamation, slander, libel and cyber-smear claims. We are knowledgeable regarding the changes and complexities of this evolving area of the law. We are committed to fighting for our clients' rights in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. With offices conveniently located in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have successfully litigated and settled defamation, trade libel, internet defamation, and cyber smearcases for clients all over the Chicago area. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, you can contact us online or give us a call on our toll-free number at 630-333-0333.

Client Reviews
"I was referred to Peter Lubin from someone in the car business to handle a law suit. From the moment I made the appointment Peter and his staff were outstanding. This wasn't an easy case, most lawyers had turned me down. However, Peter took the time to meet with me and review everything. He took on the case, and constantly communicated with me about updates and case information. We beat this non-compete agreement case in record time. I would use him again and recommend him to my closest family and friends. 5 stars is not enough to thank him for his service." Sebastian R.
"I worked on two occasions with Peter Lubin and his staff. They took their time with me and discussed each and every item in detail. The group makes you feel like you are part of the family and not just another hourly charge. I recommend Peter to anyone who asks me for a referral. If you are looking for a top notch attorney at a reasonable rate, look no further than Lubin Austermuehle." Kurt A.
"Excellent law firm. My case was a complicated arbitration dispute from another state. Was handled with utmost professionalism and decency. Mr. Peter Lubin was able to successfully resolve the case on my behalf and got me a very favorable settlement. Would recommend to anyone looking for a serious law firm. Great staff and great lawyers!" Albey L.
"I have known Peter Lubin for over 30 years. He has represented me on occasion with sound legal advice. He is a shrewd and tough negotiator leading to positive outcomes and averting prolonged legal hassles in court. He comes from a family with a legal pedigree and deep roots in Chicago's top legal community. You want him on your case. You need him on your opponents case. He won't stop fighting until he wins." Christopher G.
"Peter and his team helped us with an auto fraud case. They communicated well (timely and very responsive), investigated deeply, and negotiated a very good settlement. We were able to resolve our significant issue without a large burden and in a manner that allowed for us to come out ahead. I'd recommend Peter and his team strongly!" R.J. Callahan
"Peter was really nice and helpful when I came to him with an initial question about a non-compete. Would definitely reach out again, recommended to everyone." Johannes B.