Slander is oral defamation of character. Defamation is a civil offense that occurs when one party makes false and malicious statements about another to a third party. Many jurisdictions have slander laws that address this type of behavior and allow the harmed party to recover damages.
For statements made by one person about another to be considered slander, several circumstances must exist. To begin with, the statements must be conveyed to a third party. The law does not generally recognize the possibility of defaming a person to herself. Also, the statements must be false. No matter how private or hurtful a comment is, it is not illegal to say it if it is true.
Furthermore, if a person wishes to use slander laws to seek justice, she must be able to prove that the statements against her were made with malice. To do this, she must show that the accused had the intention to do harm. If someone makes false statements mistakenly and it hurts another person, this is not considered a malicious act and is therefore not slanderous.
These laws allow a person to sue for personal injuries in a civil court, because they recognize that a great deal of damage can be caused by defamation of character. A person may lose her job or have her business ruined because of false and malicious statements. She may suffer mentally and emotionally due to ridicule and difficulties created in her personal and social relationships.
Financial remedies, in the form of actual or punitive damages, may be awarded to a person who suffers from these or other hardships due to defamation. Before a person is awarded these damages, however, the accused has the opportunity to defend himself. One aspect of slander laws that vary from one place to another are the acceptable defenses. For example, in some jurisdictions, a person cannot be held liable for statements that can be identified as opinions.
There are certain other instances when false statements may be made about a person without the individual being subjected to legal consequences. For example, statements made to the subject in anger are not punishable even if a third party overhears. Generic statements made about groups, such as homosexuals, minorities, or an organization, do not give any individual from those groups the right to sue. Also, false statements made by lawyers, witnesses, or judges in a courtroom setting are excluded from slander laws.