People who have suffered harm to their personal or professional reputation in California may be entitled to sue for damages. Causes of action for harm to reputation in California can include violations of:
- California’s defamation laws (libel or slander),
- California’s invasion of privacy laws (public disclosure of private facts), or
- California’s business disparagement law.
To help you better understand harm to reputation in California, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What is defamation?
- 2. What is “public disclosure of private facts”?
- 3. California’s “business disparagement” law
- 4. Proving harm to reputation in California
- 5. What damages can I recover for harm to my reputation?
Defamation consists of false statements that harm another’s reputation. If the statements are verbal they are called “slander.” If made in writing they are known as “libel.”
Whether a plaintiff can successfully sue under California’s defamation laws often depends on whether the plaintiff is a public figure, a business or a private citizen. Private citizens have greater protection from defamation than people who are in the public eye.
In either case, however, defamation involves:
- An untrue statement,
- That was damaging to the plaintiff’s reputation,
- Made to someone other than the plaintiff (“published”),
- With knowledge of the statement’s falsity or failure to use reasonable care to ascertain its truth.1
Public disclosure of private facts is a form of invasion of privacy in California. To prove this tort the plaintiff must show:
- Disclosure to someone other than the plaintiff,
- Of a private fact,
- Which is not of legitimate public concern, and
- Which would be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person.2
California law makes people liable for making derogatory statements about a business in order to discourage others from dealing with it. This tort is known as “commercial disparagement” or “business disparagement” or “trade libel.”
Although similar to California’s law on defamation, the law on business disparagement exists to protect the financial reputation of a business (as opposed to someone’s personal reputation). While it exists primarily to prevent unfair competition between businesses, it can also be brought against a customer.
To be actionable under California’s trade libel law, a statement about a business must:
- Be untrue,
- Be communicated to someone other than the plaintiff,
- Clearly disparage the quality of a product or business by name,
- Be made with the knowledge of the statement’s falsity or reckless disregard of the truth, and
- Result in actual financial harm to the plaintiff.3
Proving damage to reputation in California requires proving each element of the specific cause of action. Inevitably the plaintiff must show that:
- A statement was false,
- It was made wrongfully to a third person,
- The person making the statement knew it was untrue or acted without regard to the truth or falsity of the statement, and
- The statement harmed the plaintiff’s reputation or income.
In cases of business harm, the plaintiff will usually also need to prove loss of income. This typically involves proof of earnings both immediately prior to and after the wrongful disclosure, as evidenced by:
- Tax returns,
- Bank account statements, and
- Expert testimony, if needed.
Damages for harm to reputation in California depend on the precise claim brought. But frequently damages awarded are equal to:
- The loss in business income experienced after the statement was published,
- Lost promotions, raises or business opportunities, and/or
- Amounts expended restoring one’s reputation.
Our experienced California personal injury attorneys offer free consultations to help potential plaintiffs determine whether they have a case and, if so, how much it might be worth.
For Nevada cases, please see our page on harm to your reputation in Nevada.
- See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1700 – Defamation.
- CACI 1801. Public Disclosure of Private Facts; Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 1125.
- CACI 1731. Trade Libel; Hartford Casualty Insurance v. Swift Distribution, Inc. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 277.