Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Defamation?

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Andrew Lee is insurance content writer and editor for Andrew holds a Bachelor's degree from Ryerson University and has extensive experience of writing content for financial websites. His expertise is especially strong in home and auto insurance.

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Imagine that one day you wake up, and upon checking your mail, you learn that you’re being sued for defamation. After panicking over the thought of long hours in a courtroom, you might panic again when thinking of the cost, both of defending yourself and from the possibility that you have to pay damages to the one that is suing you. Thankfully, homeowners insurance can indeed cover defamation! It can, however, require additional policies apart from your standard insurance policy, meaning that you may not be covered for defamation right now. Always make sure to review your homeowners insurance to stay up to date on what it covers.

Defamation Coverage Tends to Fall under Umbrella Insurance

Umbrella insurance is an extended insurance policy that you can purchase that provides additional protections to those already covered by your insurance. They tend to extend the physical boundaries of the insurance (to cover incidents that can happen off of your property) and to extend the list of perils covered, including for certain legal situations, such as being falsely arrested, or for being sued for libel, slander, or defamation. 

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Your insurance will typically extend the umbrella policy to the members of your family, meaning that if your child gets sued for defamation or your spouse is falsely arrested, your policy (when including the umbrella insurance) will help cover those costs. It’s important to remember, however, not to confuse umbrella insurance with personal liability insurance, which insures you if you happen to be held legally responsible for the damage of someone else’s property, or of the costs associated with a guest that gets injured on your property.

In order to apply for an umbrella policy, typically your total insurance coverage will have to meet a minimum threshold. This is because umbrella policies tend to extend coverage that you already have, so that the insurance will cover further damage of an incident.

It’s Important to Understand What Exactly Defamation Means

Different jurisdictions can have different definitions of what exactly defamation is, however the common element to all of them is that the reputation of a person or company becomes damaged when communicating with a third party. 

In order for defamation to be successfully proved, the accuser must show that a false statement was made to be factual, that this statement was published or communicated to a third party, that harm or damaged was caused due to this statement, and that the defendant was at least negligent in their statement. This last point is crucial: even if it’s unintentional, you can still get hit with a successful defamation lawsuit. Law can be very tricky, however, so any concerns regarding possible defamation should be expressed to a lawyer.

Defamation is further split between two categories: slander, and libel. Slander is spoken defamation, whereas libel is written defamation. In the past these two things were distinct, however in modern law they are both treated similarly.

The Specifics of the Coverage Depend on the Situation

Even if you do have an umbrella policy, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee coverage of any kind of defamation. As with any other type of coverage, there are disqualifying factors that can limit how much damage, if any, is covered. It is also unlikely to cover liability for comments that weren’t covered at the time the statement was made. Statements that were made with the intent to be defamatory will also not be covered. Additionally, if you own a business associated with the statement, that can become a disqualifying factor. 

It Is Important to Make Sure You Are Covered for Defamation

With social media dominating our lives, we are exposed now, more than ever, to the risk of a defamation lawsuit. Since defamation can occur even if there is no intent, it’s never been easier to accidentally defame a person or a business, whether it’s through a hot-headed tweet on Twitter or a spicy review left on Yelp. You might be tempted to think that this could never happen to you, but as people and particularly businesses evolve to adapt with the ever-changing internet, defamation is a real threat that must be treated seriously. If you’re unsure whether or not you have coverage, you should review your policy and, if necessary, purchase the additional policy as a precaution.

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Andrew Lee is insurance content writer and editor for Andrew holds a Bachelor's degree from Ryerson University and has extensive experience of writing content for financial websites. His expertise is especially strong in home and auto insurance.