When someone speaks ill of you, it can be hurtful, especially if it’s not true. Many of us have experienced this since childhood, where what was an innocent or malicious comment blew up to impact your social life in school. The unfortunate reality is that many people suffer from defamation in their lives and don’t do anything about it, mainly because they just don’t know that there are legal options when you have been defamed.

Tate Bywater in Prince William County, Virginia, has a big heart for those defamed. It’s something that can impact your life in many ways, perhaps mentally more than anything else. Defamation can be demoralizing and can even lead down the road to depression. However, there are steps you can take to end defamation.

On the flip side, if you’ve been unjustly accused of defamation and are being sued, Tate Bywater, now with three locations in Vienna, Fairfax, and Saint Leonard, can help on both sides of the aisle. Below, we’ll take a look at the defense of privilege in defamation cases. Contact our civil litigation lawyers today for a free consultation.


Privilege can have many different meanings, such as leading a privileged life. However, when privilege when it comes to speaking is very straightforward. As part of our right to free speech, privilege is the legal enjoyment, entitlement, or right to say or write what you want. Privilege must exist in a democratic society, as it facilitates the decision-making process, encourages free debate, and allows for open discussion without fear of legal consequences. This is crucial in government where debates about legislation are keen. In order to encourage robust discussions that will lead to improvements in law, you are protected under privilege. There are several types of privilege in the United States, which we will discuss in detail below.

Absolute Privilege

Like the term states, anything goes for absolute privilege. Judicial, administrative, legislative, and other government and legal official proceedings need absolute privilege in order to operate to the best of their abilities. Otherwise, loopholes and unanticipated consequences would be severe in policies, regulations, laws, and legislation. Being unqualified, absolute privilege also protects the person who speaks or writes defamatory statements with malice or reckless disregard for the other person.

Qualified Privilege

Think of qualified privilege as absolute privilege with a time frame or time limit. Also known as “common interest privilege,” qualified privilege grants temporary absolute privilege in certain situations. This is usually used for those who have a duty (moral, social, or legal) to say such things. The audience who is listening has an interest in hearing such things as well. Some examples of privilege would be recommendation letters that aren’t very recommending, or facts at open forum meetings for local government or other legal bodies. Tate and Bywater’s civil litigation lawyers note that unlike absolute privilege, you cannot intend malice or reckless disregard for someone.

Statutory Privilege

Statutory refers to statutes or written laws. Thus statutory privilege are things in the law. For example, if you report child abuse, you may say some untrue facts about the perpetrator, which cannot be prosecuted. Other areas that are included are insurance policy cancellations, hospital or medical review committees’ communications, and unemployment benefits.

Fair Report Privilege

This privilege mainly entails news organizations and their staff. Fair report privilege is granted to those who are merely relaying information that is given to them by officials, judicial proceedings, administrative proceedings, and legislative reports. However, if the content has been altered by news organizations or their staff which does cause harm with malicious intent, then they are not covered under the fair report privilege. However, the fair report privilege is essential in the media’s job to be our watchdog for the government, corporations, or anyone else looking to take advantage of others. Thus, if what was relayed to the news media was false and all the media does is report on it, the news media is not liable for defamation.

Wire Service Defense

Wire service defense is an extension of the fair report privilege. This defense is rarely used, but was important during the Vietnam War when wiring was a way many news organizations were getting their reports from (nowadays it’s the internet, which is a whole different can of worms). Wire service defense grants immunity to news organizations and the media when they disseminate unknowingly false information that was received via a reputable wire service. This is where the states come in because not every state will recognize this defense, which would mean a fair report privilege would be used instead.


When you are accused of defamation and are innocent, it can be devastating. On the flip side, if you are a victim of character assassination, you can be devastated as well. This just goes to show you the power of our words.

Tate Bywater is passionate about helping those both accused of and a victim of defamation. As a top law firm in the Prince William County area, we work hard to produce a favorable outcome for your defamation case. With over 40 years of experience helping the good people in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, we can help. We believe in helping you in all areas of your life, which is why we also offer law services beyond civil litigation. From divorce and family law to bankruptcy and criminal law, Tate Bywater brings our exceptional client care services to you no matter where you stand. Call today for a free consultation!