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Who can be defamed

Public bodies, such as local government councils, cannot sue for defamation. People employed by, or elected to, government authorities may, however, be able to sue in defamation.

General groups (such as lawyers, doctors, Italians, university students or the staff of a certain shop) cannot sue for defamation, unless the group is so small that a person could say she or he was readily identifiable. For example, defamatory words referring to senior management of a company might sufficiently identify a number of people so that they can all bring actions in defamation.

Any non profit group or organisation that has a recognised legal status (such as a trade union or an incorporated association) can sue and be sued for defamation, but a group that is not a legal entity (such as an unincorporated association or a social club) cannot sue for damages or to protect its good name, even if its individual members can prove that they were defamed by a statement made about the group. Again, if the group is small enough, individuals in the group may sue.

If an executive of an unincorporated club publishes a defamatory letter about a person, the person defamed can sue each of those involved in the publication of the letter. If a person says an unincorporated club is inefficient and corrupt, the people running the unincorporated club may be able to sue as separate individuals, but in neither case can the unincorporated club itself sue or be sued. A group such as this, with no legal identity apart from its members, cannot sue to vindicate its reputation, see COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS.

A company can be defamed, though only small corporations can sue for defamation. Small corporations are those which employ fewer than 10 people and which are not related to any other corporation. For the purpose of counting the number of employees, part-time employees are to be counted as an appropriate fraction of a full-time employee. Companies, like people, have reputations that can be damaged. However, although companies can claim damages for loss of reputation, they can get nothing for injury to feelings. It is said they have no feelings.

Persons or bodies who suffer damage from publications who cannot sue for defamation may be able to sue for injurious falsehood (see below Other Remedies). To succeed in an action for injurious falsehood it must be shown that there has been a monetary loss suffered and that the statement is false and made in an attempt to cause loss and without any lawful justification.

It is not possible to defame a dead person [see Defamation Act 2005 (SA) s 10].

Who can be defamed  :  Last Revised: Tue May 28th 2013
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.