The basics of libel and slander under Oklahoma law

Defamation is the umbrella term that covers both libel (the written word) and slander (verbal communication).

Generally, defamation is publishing a false statement about an individual that causes damage to the individual’s reputation or standing in the community or exposes the individual to public hatred, contempt, ridicule or injures him in his business.

There are some statements that are so incendiary by nature that the court will assume there was damage without the defendant having to prove specifically that there was damage (e.g., false statements that charge person with crime, impute in subject present existence of infectious, contagious, or loathsome disease, tend to injure subject directly in his business or profession, or impute to subject impotence or want of chastity; these examples are from Oklahoma case, albeit some very old case . . .).

The Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions provide that a Plaintiff has to prove the following to win a defamation claim:

In order to recover for defamation, [Plaintiff] has the burden of proving the following five elements by the greater weight of the evidence:

1. The statement exposed [Plaintiff] to public hatred, contempt, ridicule or disgrace;
2. [Defendant] communicated the statement to (a person)/ persons) other than [Plaintiff];
3. ( That person)/(Those persons ) reasonably understood the statement to be about [Plaintiff];
4. The statement was false; however, minor inaccuracies do not amount to falsity if the statement is substantially true; and,
5. [Defendant] did not exercise the care which a reasonably careful person would use under the circumstances to determine whether the statement was true or false; and,
6. The statement caused [Plaintiff] to suffer ( a financial loss)/(damage to Plaintiff’s reputation and/or emotional injury).

Truth is a defense; element four of the jury instruction requires the Plaintiff to prove that the statement was false. Generally, a person can share an opinion without worrying about defamation because an opinion isn’t capable of being proven “true” or “false”. However, one thing to keep in mind is that expressing something as an “opinion” doesn’t automatically eliminate a defamation claim. A statement that is couched as an “opinion” but to most people sounds like a fact, may be subject to being proved false. Whether a statement is an opinion depends on the context of the statement and knowledge of the person publishing the statement.


Posted by Shawn Roberts

On this blog, I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. My focus and most experience is in estate planning and business issues including Oklahoma non-compete law. I make a living as an attorney in the law firm I founded, Shawn J. Roberts, P.C. in Oklahoma City. I live in Edmond with my wife Amy and my two children, Sam (19) and David (11). We live precisely in the path of where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."