As with most personal injury lawsuits, soon after a defamation case is filed in court, the parties will engage in an information-exchanging process known as "discovery." Interrogatories (written questions and answers) are an important tool in this process. Let's look at how they work in a defamation case, and the kinds of questions you can expect.
The Defamation Basics
Defamation is generally defined as any untrue statement that hurts someone’s reputation. The two types of defamation claims are slander, which is spoken defamation, and libel, which is when the harmful words are written or published. (Learn more about the difference between libel and slander.)
Although defamation is not a crime, those who believe they have been unjustly subject to harmful remarks may have grounds for a civil case against the defamer. Unlike most personal injury cases, which are based on an accident (and someone's negligence in connection with that accident), a defamation lawsuit is based on an intentional act. Losses ("damages") in defamation cases also involve harm to reputation and economic losses, as opposed to physical injury.
The harmful remarks must have been “published,” which in this case just means that a third-party (someone other than the person who spoke or wrote the statement, and the person who is the subject of the statement) heard or read it. The plaintiff in a defamation case will also need to prove that the hurtful statements were false, and that they caused damages or harm. Finally, the words in question can’t fall into a privileged category (such as trial testimony).
What Part Do Interrogatories Play?
Now, onto the subject of interrogatories in a defamation case. In any kind of personal injury claim, one of the ways that information is gathered during the "discovery" stage is by the exchanging of interrogatories between the parties.
Interrogatories are written questions (or requests for specific information) that are sent from one party to another. The plaintiff can send the interrogatories to the defendant, and vice versa. The receiving party then has to respond, truthfully and in writing, within a specified period of time (exactly how long can vary by state; in California you have 35 days to respond if you were served by mail within the state).
Interrogatories in a defamation case will center around whether the main elements of libel or slander are present: a published statement that is false, does harm, and is unprivileged. In a defamation case, even more than in other types of civil litigation, interrogatory questions may vary greatly depending on the type of defamation that occurred and other specifics of the case. This could include the nature of the party’s relationship and the damages caused by the alleged defamation.
What Kinds of Questions Are Asked?
Let's look at some sample interrogatory questions in a defamation lawsuit:
Identify the full name and address of every person you believe has knowledge regarding the facts of this lawsuit, and describe in detail the nature of their knowledge.
Please provide a list of all documents you are aware of that are relevant to this litigation, including the document type, date, author, and current location/custodian.
Getting a little more specific, interrogatories sent from the plaintiff to the defendant in a defamation case might include:
List any blogs, forums, or other websites on which you commented regarding the plaintiff, including the username/handle under which the comments were made.
Name each person you spoke to regarding the plaintiff, within the past year.
Identify all written documents that you authored in full or part, regarding the plaintiff.
The defendant might send the plaintiff interrogatories such as:
Please list all damages that you claim as a result of the alleged defamation, including type of damages, monetary value, and any supporting documents.
Identify the specific statements or comments made by defendant that you allege amounted to defamation.
Get more background on interrogatories in a personal injury case.
Defamation cases can be contentious and challenging. If you find yourself on either side of a slander or libel claim that is at the stage where interrogatories are being sent, it’s time to turn the matter over to an experienced defamation attorney. Learn more about why it's a good idea to have a personal injury attorney on your side.