When any person says anything about any other person or business, in a commercial context, which could reasonably be interpreted to be defamatory, the person being referred to may want to consider a cause of action for defamation. If the statements were made in the course of business dealings or trade, you may want to consider seeking lost profits and other consequential damages.
A communication is defamatory if it so harms the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him. Generally speaking, if the statement is about the person’s trade or business it could be slander per se, if it is communicated verbally, and it could be libel per se, if it is communicated in written form.
Americans are very adapt about their fundamental rights and the right to free speech is one of them. There are significant concerns that if the law is made overly aggressive in allowing people to sue for any communication, the results could have a chilling effect on free speech. People would be afraid of being sued, in regard to whatever they say. This is not a very desirable outcome in society where dissemination of information is of utmost importance to a society.
The court balanced these competing interests. The court found that the right to free speech in the US, required that any ‘public figure’ seeking to sue for defamation would have to show common law malice. Common law malice is defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. This would first have to be pleaded at the pleading stage, and proven by evidence at the trial stage.
In the famous case of New York Times v. Sullivan, an advertisement was placed in a famous newspaper which included several references to the ‘Montgomery police force’. L. V. Sullivan a police officer of the Montgomery police department took issue at this advertisement, and decided to sue. The court found that, when a public official seeks to sue for defamation, he must show something more than mere falsity. He would be required to show actual malice, ie. knowledge of falsity, or reckless disregard of the truth.
In many cases, people in commercial business relationships attempt to spread false communications about the financial health of a company they have had dealings with. You may be entitled to lost profits, punitive damages and actual damages if your company has been victimized as such.