The personal injury doctrine of defamation is designed to protect an individual’s reputation from unfair attack. Defamation law stems largely from the principle that although we have the freedom of speech in this country, a person’s reputation is a valuable thing, and one should not be allowed to say false or malicious things about another person with total impunity. Defamation comes in two forms- "libel", which is written or published defamation, and "slander", which is spoken.

In order to win a case for defamation, a plaintiff must establish:

1. The Defendant made a statement. Opinions are generally not sufficient to establish defamation, although opinions that imply the existence of facts may suffice.
2. The statement was false. In almost all situations, if the statement was true, no matter how scandalous or outrageous, it can not be the basis for a defamation of character suit.
3. The statement must have been about the plaintiff. If the statement does not specifically identify the plaintiff by name, he or she must show that whoever heard or read the statement would have reasonably inferred that the statement concerned the plaintiff.
4. The statement was published. “Published” in this sense means that the statement was communicated to a third party by the defendant. Making an otherwise defamatory statement to someone in private does not count, because the whole concept is based on damage to one’s reputation.
5. The statement injured the plaintiff’s reputation. The standard for injury is whether the statement would tend to make others not want to associate with the plaintiff, or generally lower their standing within the community.