Defamation Law

ColinI joined Hankin Sandman Palladino & Weintrob in 2008 after starting my career first as a law clerk in the Atlantic County Superior Court and then as an Assistant County Prosecutor in the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. Working as a prosecutor provided me with the opportunity to not only be in court everyday trying cases and arguing motions, but also to receive cutting edge training in trial advocacy techniques from the Justice Department and other agencies. That courtroom experience and training has proven invaluable as I often have more courtroom experience than adversaries practicing law twice as long as me. While my days as a county prosecutor are behind, I am able to continue serving Atlantic County as a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, a position the voters elected me to in 2012.

 

Today, most of my practice is focused on commercial litigation, construction, and representing plaintiffs in employment discrimination and civil rights cases. One of the other areas that I have developed an expertise in is the law of defamation. While citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak or publish anything, the law does not allow an individual to make false statements about others. In 2012, after a multi-week trial, I obtained a $250,000.00 jury verdict for a New Jersey State Trooper who was falsely accused of official misconduct. Through expert witnesses, eye witness testimony, and physical evidence I was able to prove the allegations were false. The false allegations had resulted in a year long internal affairs investigation that significantly disrupted the Trooper’s career and his personal life, and the jury awarded fair compensation for that ordeal.

As a result of the media coverage from that case, I receive several inquiries every month from individuals seeking to purse defamation claims. While every case is different, there are some important factors that must be present to pursue a successful defamation claim. First, the false statement must be a statement of fact. Someone expressing his or her opinion, no matter how wrong or misguided that opinion is, cannot be successfully sued for defamation. Second, there must be concrete proof that the misstatement is false. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove the statement is false, and “proving a negative” can be very difficult. Third, there must be some actual financial damages resulting from the false statement. Defamation cases are not feeshifting, and can get expensive quickly. While certain types of serious false allegations allow for the recovery of limited “presumed damages,” a defamation case is often not worth pursuing financially unless the plaintiff can show real economic harm, such as loss of a job or business opportunity. While defamation cases are challenging and require skillful trial presentation, when all of these factors are present, a successful plaintiff not only has the chance to publically clear his name but also to recover financially for the damage to his reputation.

Find out more about Colin Bell