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What Is Per Se Defamation vs. Per Quod Defamation?

Reed Bloodworth is the managing partner of Bloodworth Law with offices in Orlando and Winter Haven, Florida.

Bloodworth Law handles a broad range of business litigation, including defamation.

This is part two of our discussion on defamation. In a previous video, we discussed the general definition of defamation and the difference between verbal defamation — slander and written defamation —  libel.

What is Per Se Defamation vs. Per Quod Defamation?

Now we will discuss the differences between per se defamation and per quod defamation.

If a statement is actionable on its face, meaning something is said that is incredibly hurtful and blatantly false, is is called per se defamation.

Per Se Defamation Statements Provoke Distrust or Ridicule

In a per se defamation action, the statement itself is actionable on its own, the damages will be presumed and the malice element does not have to be proven, unless the plaintiff is a public figure.

Per se defamation statements are so bad they immediately subject a person or a company to hatred, distrust, ridicule, disgrace or contempt.

For example, let’s say a potential client was considering using Business A or Business B. Business B says to the potential client — in an effort to convince them to not use Business A  but to use them instead — “Don’t use Business A, those guys have been charged with bribery and blackmail.”

That is per se defamation. In the context of this type of lawsuit, it’s per se defamation because it’s such an egregious statement that a court will presume that they harmed the plaintiff’s reputation.

4 Categories for Defamation Per Se

Statements that automatically qualify as defamation per se have traditionally fit into the following four categories:

  1. Accusing someone of a serious criminal offense.
  2. Accusing someone of having an infectious disease.
  3. Accusing someone of conduct incompatible with the person’s business, trade, position or office.
  4. Accusing a woman of a lack of chastity.

Defamation per quod cases are much more difficult to prove than per se cases because in per quod cases, the statements are typically a more backhanded than a straightforward per se statement.

Often, the accusation is implied based upon the circumstances in which it is given. Remember the earlier example of Business A and Business B.  Rather than a straight forward statement that Business A is run by criminals,  a per quod statement might be along the lines of, “You don’t want to do business with Business A. I hear their owner takes pictures of kids.”

The owner of Business A might be a family photographer on the side. But, when put in this context by Business B, it was clearly made with malice and meant to harm Business A.

Let’s review: Under the umbrella of defamation, there is slander and there is libel, which require the same elements. Libel is in writing and slander is verbal. Finally, there are the different levels of defamation, per se versus per quod. I hope this was helpful.

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