Slander is a legal term for speech that makes a false and defamatory statement about another person. It is not a crime but an actionable civil offense, which means people can sue when they are slandered. It is easier to navigate the court system with a lawyer, but it's possible to sue someone for slander without one. Small-claims courts allow people to sue for small amounts without hiring a lawyer. The limit on damages that qualifies a case for small-claims court varies among the states.
Find out what county the person you plan to sue lives in. You must file suit in this county unless you are suing a business. Businesses can be sued in the county in which they are incorporated and, in some cases, the county where they conduct business. If the slander came about as a part of business operations, you may be able to sue in the county where you were slandered. For example, if a business owner made slanderous statements about you on television, you could sue in the county where the show was recorded.
File the suit in the court clerk's office. Many courts have a separate clerk for the small-claims division who can walk you through the process. If there is no small-claims division, file your suit in magistrate court. The clerk will give you a form to fill out. Provide the current address of the person you are suing -- who will be referred to as the defendant in the suit -- so the sheriff can officially notify him about the suit. This presentation of documents is known as "serving" the suit. The court will charge a filing fee, which you can recoup from the defendant if you win the suit.
Gather all evidence supporting your claim. Most small-claims courts are presided over by a judge who will issue a verdict. You must make a compelling case to the judge that your claim is valid. Document all contacts with the other party, and communicate with him only in writing. Truth is always a defense for slander, so make sure you have ample documentation that statements spoken by the defendant are incorrect. It will also be helpful to have documentation that the other side knew its statements were incorrect.
Tips & Warnings
- Show up on time for your court hearing. If you are not present in court, your claim will be dismissed or the judge may issue a verdict in favor of the defendant.
- Suing someone without a lawyer is always risky. If the amount of money at stake is large, consider hiring an attorney.
- "Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court"; Ralph Warner; 2010
- "Small Claims Court Guidebook"; Michael Spadaccini; 2007
- Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia: Magistrate Courts in Georgia
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
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