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What Is Libelous?

How to express an opinion based without engaging in libel.

When you express an opinion, you may subject yourself to a lawsuit. You should know what is libelous.

dollar liability
Liability = Money

Suppose you think something is a scam, and say it. When are you subject to liability and when is your statement priveleged?

The jury is the final arbiter, but it will cost you money well before you ever get to a jury. So learn what is libelous before you express an opinion.

Here’s what the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 566 says about this general issue:

There are two kinds of expression of opinion. The simple expression of opinion, or the pure type [which is privileged against liability –EV], occurs when the maker of the comment states the facts on which he bases his opinion of the plaintiff and then expresses a comment as to the plaintiff’s conduct, qualifications or character....

The second kind of expression of opinion, or the mixed type, is one which, while an opinion in form or context, is apparently based on facts regarding the plaintiff or his conduct that have not been stated by the defendant or assumed to exist by the parties to the communication. Here the expression of the opinion gives rise to the inference that there are undisclosed facts that justify the forming of the opinion expressed by the defendant. To say of a person that he is a thief without explaining why, may, depending upon the circumstances, be found to imply the assertion that he has committed acts that come within the common connotation of thievery [and lead to liability –EV]....

Illustration 3. A writes to B about his neighbor C: “I think he must be an alcoholic.” A jury might find that this was not just an expression of opinion but that it implied that A knew undisclosed facts that would justify this opinion.

4. A writes to B about his neighbor C: “He moved in six months ago. He works downtown, and I have seen him during that time only twice, in his backyard around 5:30 seated in a deck chair with a portable radio listening to a news broadcast, and with a drink in his hand. I think he must be an alcoholic.” The statement indicates the facts on which the expression of opinion was based and does not imply others. These facts are not defamatory and A is not liable for defamation....

For application to a particluar case see See Court Rejects Imam's Libel Claim

And to think about it in terms of claiming scam, first understand the common definition of a scam - a confidence game or other fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit: swindle.

Just calling someone a scammer, without explaining why, may be libelous and end up costing you money.

The safest route is to say nothing. But if you feel that you have to say something, you had best fully understand what is libelous and carefully phrase what you say.

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