Parameters of Defamation


Recently former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura filed a defamation lawsuit against Chris Kyle for statements made in Kyle’s book, “American Sniper.” In his book, Kyle stated that in 2006 he was involved in an incident with the former Minnesota governor wherein Kyle punched Ventura. Ventura claims that the fight didn’t happen and sued Mr. Kyle for defamation. Ventura has been quoted saying that “it’s about clearing my name. It’s a lie,” referring to the fact that the case is not about the money, even though Kyle’s book has earned royalties of more than $3,000,000.

Specifically, the incident references an interaction between Kyle and Ventura when Ventura was speaking loudly against President George W. Bush, the Iraq War, and Navy SEAL tactics. Kyle, as a former Navy SEAL, claims that Ventura actually said SEALs “deserve to lose a few.” Kyle claims that he then punched Ventura, knocking him to the ground. Kyle’s defense to this defamation claim is that the events were actually true, thus making any statements in his book about the encounter not defamatory. As of the date of the publication of this article, the trial has not concluded. It is unclear whether a jury will find that Kyle’s statements were actually defamatory.

Defamation Elements

The elements of a defamation claim are:

  1. False and defamatory statement of fact concerning the plaintiff,
  2. Communicated to someone other than the plaintiff, and
  3. With the tendency to harm the plaintiff’s reputation and lower him or her in the estimation of the community.

The Statement Must Be False

The plaintiff must establish that the alleged defamatory statement is false, and is something that is a fact and not an opinion. For example, describing someone as a “complainer, troublemaker, or brown-nose” are not sufficiently objective to be susceptible of being proven true or false and thus not a false statement. Those statements are not sufficient enough to be proven true or false and therefore cannot be subject to a defamation action.

Must Concern the Plaintiff and Communicated to Another

Next, of course, the statement must be of and concerning the plaintiff, either by showing that the defamatory statement actually refers to the plaintiff or the audience reasonably understood that the defamatory statement refers to the plaintiff. The statement must also be published to a third person or persons. Lastly, a plaintiff must prove damages to recover for common law defamation.

The Statement Must Harm the Plaintiff

To be defamation, the statement must “injure the plaintiff’s reputation and expose the plaintiff to public, hatred, contempt, ridicule, or degradation.” Phipps v. Clark Oil & Ref. Corp., 408 N.W.2d 569, 573 (Minn. 1987).