DEFAMATION IN SOUTH CAROLINA

The South Carolina Supreme Court held in Fleming v. Rose that to prove defamation the plaintiff must show:

(1) a false and defamatory statement was made;
(2) that it was unprivileged and published to a third person;
(3) fault; and
(4) either the statement was actionable irrespective of harm or the publication of the statement caused special harm.  Fleming, 350 S.C. 488 (2002).
 

In South Carolina a statement that is defamatory on it’s face is referred to as defamation per se.  For example, “Doe is a liar.”  On the other hand, if the statement is unclear requiring outside evidence to prove who or what the speaker was saying, the statement is referred to as defamation per quod, and the plaintiff has the burden to present evidence to prove defamation.  Holtzscheiter v. Thomson Newspapers, 376 S.C. 308 (Ct. App. 2007).

Generally, if the defamatory statement is actionable on it’s face, or per se, then the plaintiff need not prove damages or actual malice.   Slander (spoken defamation) is actionable per se if the statement relates to the commission of a crime of moral turpitude, a sexually transmitted disease, adultery, chastity, or unfitness in one’s business or profession.  Smith v. Phoenix Furniture Co., 339 F. Supp. 969, 971 (D.S.C. 1972).

Juries are given wide discretion regarding damages in South Carolina.  Money damages rewarded for defamation are those that necessarily result from publication of a defamatory statement.  General damages are those which arise by “inference of law and need not be proved.” Holtzscheiter, 338 S.C. 308 (Ct. App. 2007).  They include injury to reputation, mental suffering, hurt feelings, and other similar types of injuries which are incapable of definite money valuation.  Id.  Moreover, punitive damages are available in South Carolina “in the interest of society” and as a “punishment and as a warning and example to deter the wrongdoer and other from committing like offenses in the future.”  Lynch v. Toys R Us Del., 375 S.C. 604 (Ct. App. 2007).

Each new case presents it's own unique facts.  If you believe you may have an actionable defamtion claim, it is in your best interst to contact an attorney at your earliest convenience.  Please feel free to contact a South Carolina Defamation lawyer at Stratos Law for a fee-free consult.