Disclaimer: This blog post is not legal advice. This post is intended to give a bit of background information about Defamation Law in the State of Tennessee. Each case is different and there is a meaningful distinction between having a cognizable claim and whether or not it is wise to bring a lawsuit. For legal advice applicable to your specific situation, always contact a licensed attorney in your state.
Under Tennessee Law defamation is a cause of action alleging that (1) a defendant published a statement; (2) with knowledge the statement was false or injuring to the reputation of the plaintiff; (3) and the defendant was negligent for failing to ascertain the truth of the statement or the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement. Brown v. Christian Bros. Univ., 428 S.W.3d 38, 50 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013). The plaintiff has the burden of proof as to each element. If the defendant can show that any one of these essential elements is not met then the defendant would win the lawsuit as to the defamation claim. There are two types of defamation: slander and libel. Slander is “the speaking of base and defamatory words which tend to prejudice another in his reputation, office, trade, business, or means of livelihood.” Little Stores v. Isenberg, 172 S.W.2d 13, 16 (Tenn. App. 1943). Libel is written defamation. Davis v. The Tennessean, 83 S.W.3d 125, 128 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). Only people who are currently alive can bring claims for defamation. Estates cannot bring claims of defamation, because under the common law, defamation damages are to restore the reputation of the plaintiff, and once the plaintiff is deceased his or her reputation is no longer legally protectable.