24/7 call for a free consultation 212-300-5196




When you’re facing a federal issue, you need an attorney whose going to be available 24/7 to help you get the results and outcome you need. The value of working with the Spodek Law Group is that we treat each and every client like a member of our family.

California Defamation (Libel and Slander) Laws

California Defamation Laws: What You Need to Know

Defamation laws in California, like, protect people against false statements that harm their reputation. The legal terms for defamation are libel (for written statements) and slander (for spoken statements). I’ll break down how these laws work and what defenses you can use if someone accuses you of defamation.

The Basics

To prove defamation in California, the plaintiff (the person suing) needs to show:

  • The defendant made a false statement of fact about the plaintiff. Opinions don’t count.
  • The statement was published or shared with at least one other person besides the plaintiff. So saying it to the plaintiff alone doesn’t count.
  • The statement harmed the plaintiff’s reputation or discouraged others from associating with them.
  • The defendant made the statement negligently or with actual malice. More on that later.

If the plaintiff proves all that, the defendant can still avoid liability with certain defenses. More on those defenses in a bit.First let’s break down each element:

False Statement of Fact

The statement has to be provably false. Defamation law doesn’t protect opinions, even really mean ones. As the Supreme Court said, there’s “no such thing as a false idea.”The statement also has to be about a specific person or company. You can’t defame a whole group or class of people.Examples of false factual statements that could be defamatory:

  • “John embezzled money from his company.”
  • “The restaurant has rats in its kitchen.”
  • “Jane cheated on the exam.”

Statements of opinion are NOT defamatory. For example:

  • “I think John is a lousy employee.”
  • “That restaurant served terrible food.”
  • “Jane seems like a dishonest person to me.”

The line between fact and opinion isn’t always crystal clear though. Context matters. Calling someone a “scammer” or “quack” could imply specific facts and be defamatory, even though they look like opinions.

Published to a Third Party

Telling a defamatory lie directly to the plaintiff usually isn’t enough for defamation. The statement has to be published or shared with at least one other person.Examples:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
Loveth Okpedo
Loveth Okpedo
Very professional, very transparent, over all a great experience
Bee L
Bee L
Amazing experience with Spodek! Very professional lawyers who take your case seriously. They treated me with respect, were always available, and answered any and all questions. They were able to help me very successfully and removed a huge stress. Highly recommend.
divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • Posting a defamatory statement on social media, a website, flyers, etc.
  • Saying it out loud to a group of people
  • Sending an email or text about the plaintiff to someone else
  • Filing a false complaint against the plaintiff with an official agency

Simply telling the plaintiff “I think you’re a crook” face-to-face probably wouldn’t count as defamation. But saying “I think Bob’s a crook” to Bob’s friend would.

Caused Reputational Harm

The false statement has to harm the plaintiff’s reputation or deter others from associating with them. For example, by:

  • Hurting the plaintiff’s professional reputation
  • Causing people to shun or avoid the plaintiff socially
  • Disrupting the plaintiff’s business relationships
  • Keeping others from doing business with the plaintiff

Actual financial loss isn’t required. But the harm has to be more than just minor annoyance or embarrassment. There needs to be real reputational damage.

Made Negligently or with Malice

In a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff has to prove the defendant acted negligently or with “actual malice.”For private plaintiffs, “negligence” just means the defendant didn’t use reasonable care to determine if the statement was true or false. They were careless or reckless with the truth.But for public officials and other public figures, negligence isn’t enough. They have to prove “actual malice.” That means the defendant made the statement either:

  • Knowing it was false, or
  • With reckless disregard for the truth.

So a mistake or carelessness isn’t enough. The defendant had to actually know the statement was false or not care at all if it was true or false.This higher standard comes from the First Amendment, to protect freedom of speech on public issues and people.

Defenses Against Defamation Claims

Even if a statement seems defamatory, the defendant has several possible defenses to avoid liability:


Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. As long as the factual statement is substantially true, it’s not defamatory even if it hurts the plaintiff’s reputation.Minor inaccuracies don’t matter as long as the “gist” or “sting” of the statement is true.


It’s not defamation if the plaintiff consented to the statement being published. For example, by signing a release or giving an interview. But consent has limits – like if the statement goes beyond what the plaintiff agreed to.


Statements of opinion rather than factual assertions usually aren’t defamatory, as mentioned earlier. But there are some exceptions where opinions may imply specific defamatory facts.


Statements made in certain protected contexts of privilege aren’t defamatory even if false. Two key examples:Absolute privilege – Statements made in official legislative, judicial, or administrative proceedings can’t be defamatory even if false. The idea is to promote open debate in official contexts.Qualified privilege – Statements between people with a shared interest or duty may be protected if made in good faith. This covers things like employer references, credit reports, etc. The plaintiff can still overcome this privilege by showing the defendant acted with malice.

Fair Report Privilege

Media outlets can report on official proceedings like trials or public meetings without liability for defamation, as long as the report is fair and accurate. This promotes public awareness of official acts.

Who Can Sue for Defamation?

The person allegedly defamed can sue for defamation in their own name. No one can sue on behalf of a deceased person.For living people, the defamatory statement has to be “of and concerning” them specifically. So you can’t just defame a group or class of people.Businesses and other organizations can also sue for defamation about their goods, services or professional reputation.

Public Figures vs Private Figures

Whether the plaintiff is a public or private figure matters a lot in defamation cases.Public figures like politicians or celebrities have to prove actual malice – knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth. A merely negligent false statement isn’t enough. This heightened standard comes from the First Amendment.Private figures only need to show negligence. The idea is they didn’t voluntarily put themselves into public debate like public figures did.Determining who counts as a limited purpose public figure can be tricky though. People can become temporary public figures by getting involved in specific public controversies.

Damages in Defamation Cases

If the plaintiff proves defamation, they can recover money damages for both economic and non-economic harm.Economic or special damages cover quantifiable financial losses from the reputational injury. For example, lost salary, customers, or business opportunities.Non-economic or general damages cover less tangible harm like mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, etc. The plaintiff’s social standing and the nature of the defamatory statement affect these damages.Punitive damages may also be awarded to punish intentional or malicious defamation. But some states like California cap punitive damages.Plaintiffs can seek injunctions to stop continued publication of defamatory statements too. But courts are hesitant to impose prior restraints on speech. Retractions may also be required.

The Bottom Line

Defamation law aims to balance protecting reputations vs. free speech rights. The elements and defenses try to strike that balance.But defamation cases often come down to gray areas like fact vs. opinion, negligence vs. malice, public vs private plaintiff. It’s very context-specific.If you’re worried about defamation liability, consult an attorney experienced in media law. They can review the specific statement and context to assess any risks and defenses. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to defamation!


This video gives a quick overview of the basics of defamation law.This article covers defamation law in California in more detail.Here are some examples of defamation cases in California and how the courts ruled:

More Information

Schedule Your Consultation Now