When Words Become Weapons

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The old schoolyard rhyme isn’t true—mis-used words CAN hurt you!

The Internet has made it easier to do a lot of things…including publishing defamatory or libelous statements against another person or business. But defamation can occur in person as well. How many times have you heard someone say something absolutely cringe-worthy about another person? If that statement was false, hurtful and said to another person, it could be defamation.

What exactly is defamation? Defamation means a false statement made by one person that causes harm to another. Defamation may be oral or written.

Slander and libel are both forms of defamation. Slander occurs in verbal communications, while libel occurs in print or other visible or audible media, such as online, film or video.

The law defines defamation, slander and libel as intentional torts, or civil wrongs.  Victims of intentional torts can file a civil lawsuit to seek damages.

To be found guilty of defamation, the perpetrator’s words (whether spoken, written or published in any way) must fall into these three categories:


  • They must be spoken/heard/seen by another person.
  • They must be hurtful to the person or business.
  • They must be false.


A statement that is true cannot be defamatory. In addition, different standards apply to public figures, including politicians or celebrities who are in the public eye. Public figures cannot prove libel or slander unless they can demonstrate the perpetrator acted with malice.

The law considers defamation, slander and libel personal injuries, or violations of a person’s civil rights. A person who feels his or her rights have been violated or who feels harmed by the negligent actions of another person can file a civil lawsuit. If the court agrees a wrong has occurred, the perpetrator can become liable for damages and legal fees.

Your homeowners policy covers your liability when your negligence causes property damage or bodily injury to another person. But although defamation, slander, libel, invasion of privacy and other civil wrongs cause harm to another person, they are not bodily injury. Unless your policy has a personal injury liability endorsement, it probably doesn’t cover you for defamation and other personal injuries, including wrongful imprisonment, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. That could leave you on the hook for legal defense costs and any damages.

We can provide the coverage you need by adding a personal injury endorsement to your homeowners policy. This policy addition will cover you for personal injury claims. It does not apply to intentional wrongs, or cases where you act with malice or deliberately seek to harm someone. As with other claims, your homeowners coverage will not apply to business-related claims. So if you blog for money, your homeowners coverage will not cover you for libel. A specialized publishers policy would provide the coverage you need.

An umbrella liability policy can provide additional coverage. An umbrella policy pays claims when your homeowners policy pays out its limits. Some umbrellas are “following form,” which cover only types of claims paid by the underlying homeowners and auto policies. Others will cover certain types of claims excluded by the underlying policies. You can buy umbrella policies with limits of $1 million or more. These policies provide a lot of extra peace of mind for very little money. Please contact us for more information on insuring your liability and other risk exposures.