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[CHAN'S LAW BLOG] Defamation in South Carolina

At common law, a communication is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him. See, e.g., Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., 332 S.C. 502, 506 S.E.2d 497 (1998).

In South Carolina, defamation could be proved by showing that (1) a false and defamatory statement was made; (2) the unprivileged statement was published to a third party; (3) the publisher was at fault; and (4) either the statement was actionable irrespective of harm (“actionable per se”) or the publication of the statement caused special harm. See id. Spoken defamation is generally known as “slander” while “libel” is a written defamation or one accomplished by actions or conduct. See Wilhoit v. WCSC, Inc., 293 S.C. 34, 358 S.E.2d 397 (Ct. App. 1987).

Slander is actionable per se—that is, actionable without proof of special damages—when the defendant’s alleged defamatory statements charge the plaintiff with commission of a crime of moral turpitude or unfitness in his business, trade, or profession. See generally Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, Inc., supra, 332 S.C. 502, 506 S.E.2d 497 (1998). In this case, general damages are presumed and need not be proven by the plaintiff. See id.

All libel, on the other hand, is essentially actionable per se. See id. In other words, a court can legally presume, because of the nature of a libelous statement, that the plaintiff’s reputation was hurt as a consequence of the defendant’s publication of it. See id.

Where a plaintiff succeeds in proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with constitutional actual malice—that is, that the defendant either realized the statement was false or had serious reservations about its truth—the plaintiff may recover punitive damages from the defendant. See, e.g., Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 94 S. Ct. 2997 (1974); see also Deloach v. Beaufort Gazette, 281 S.C. 474, 316 S.E.2d 139 (1984).

Should you feel that someone has made an inaccurate, false, destructive, and/or defamatory statement that may call into question your character, reputation, or fitness in your business, trade, or profession, you may have a valid defamation claim against that person. Please contact Ahn Law Firm to discuss your situation and determine whether you need to take a legal action to protect your reputation. We will listen to you carefully and work closely with you to help you find a resolution to your concerns.

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