Can the Estate of a Dead Man Sue for Slander?

By Teo Spengler

Slander is an untrue oral statement made about someone that damages his reputation. Under general legal principles, only a living person can bring a suit for slander because a dead person suffers no harm if his reputation is sullied. In some states, a defamation suit begun by an individual before his death may be continued by his estate.

Elements of Defamation

The legal tort of defamation involves a false statement about a person that is negligently or willfully communicated to a third party and results in harm to the person's reputation. It is slander if the statement is oral, libel if it is written. The statement must actually injure the reputation of the person, not just constitute an insult. Truth is an absolute defense to the charge of slander.

Dead Cannot Be Defamed

"You can't defame the dead" is an often-repeated legal chestnut that restates the general rule that only the living can sue for damages to their reputation. The continued force of this rule explains why many defamatory "tell-all" biographies appear after a famous figure has died. Georgia's law is typical -- it recognizes no cause of action for slander of a dead person, but allows the person's family to continue to prosecute a legal action for slander that the deceased started before he died.

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