How to Calculate Damages in a Slander Case

Slander occurs when a person makes an unprivileged false statement of fact that causes harm to that person or his or her reputation. Determining the amount of damages in a given slander case can help the plaintiff and lawyer determine the potential value of the case and if it is worth pursuing.

Types of Damages

There are a number of different damages that a victim of slander may suffer. These include:

Actual or Special Damages

Actual or special damages are compensatory damages. These damages are intended to return the plaintiff to the position that he or she was at before the slander occurred so that he or is she is basically in the same situation as he or she would have been not having been wronged.

Actual damages can be calculated to a certain dollar amount. They include all those damages that the plaintiff directly suffered due to the slander. This may include lost wages, lost earning capacity or loss of business opportunities. These may include the actual amounts lost or the amounts that are likely to be lost because of the slander.

To calculate lost earnings, the plaintiff can add up the wages that he or she lost from being out of work because of the slanderous statement. This also includes any employment benefits that were lost, such as using sick days or paid time off to deal with the slanderous statement.

Lost earning capacity is more difficult to prove and generally requires expert testimony. An expert may have to testify about how the plaintiff’s diminished earning capacity will affect his or her lifetime earnings. For example, if a person was working a $100,000 job and the slander caused him or her to be fired and to be ostracized from the position and was only able to earn $50,000, the annual amount of damages would start at $50,000. Reasonable pay increases based on the individual’s employment record would also be taken into consideration, as well as his or her prospects for promotion. Inflation may also be taken into consideration.

An expert may have to evaluate a variety of evidence in order to determine the difference between the plaintiff’s projected earnings before the slander in order to compare these with the projected earnings after the slander. The economic expert may examine the plaintiff’s tax returns, the current and projected economic state and the industry in which the plaintiff is employed and was employed.

If the plaintiff was a business owner, his or her losses may include the loss of existing clients and the lost business opportunities. Former clients may be called to testify that they stopped doing business because of the slander. An economic expert may be necessary to testify about the economic impact of such lost business opportunities and business goodwill.
Actual damages also include the out-of-pocket expenses that the plaintiff has to pay because of the slander, such as the amounts he or she paid to a psychiatrist.

General or Non-Economic Damages

Another category of damages that may require calculation is general or non-economic damages. These damages are meant to compensate the victim for his or her damaged reputation, mental anguish and pain and suffering. This area of damages can be used to compensate victims for public humiliation, shame and disgrace.

Non-economic damages are assessed by the judge or jury that is hearing the case. If the case settles, the value of non-economic damages may be negotiated between the parties and their respective lawyers. Juries may be instructed to use their own reason, belief and experience to determine an appropriate amount of damages.

Some jurisdictions do not award victims of slander with non-economic damages. Some provide these damages to victims only if certain criteria are met, such as if the plaintiff was wrongfully accused of committing a crime or was significantly affected by the slander. Some states limit non-economic damages to victims of libel, written defamation, and not to oral defamation.

Punitive Damages

In some cases and jurisdictions, punitive damages may be assessed against the defendant. These damages are established to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and to deter similar conduct in future dealings. To receive punitive damages, the plaintiff may be required to meet a heavier burden of proof.

Mitigating Damages

Plaintiffs are generally required to mitigate their damages, meaning that they should take reasonable steps to minimize the damages that they suffer. For example, if the plaintiff is offered a similar job after losing another one due to the slanderous statement, he or she should generally take it. Otherwise, the defendant can argue that the amount of damages should be reduced by the salary that the plaintiff would have had if he or she took the position.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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