There Are No Magic Words . . .

which will insulate you from liability for defamation. This usually comes into play because people mistakenly believe that only facts are actionable defamation. Wrong. An opinion can form the basis of a cause of action for defamation (slander, libel, and trade libel too) if it implies undisclosed defamatory facts.

So just because you say "in my opinion, Joe Shmoe is a fraud," doesn’t mean you’re automatically protected by the First Amendment. The court would look at the statement in its context to determine whether it implies a provably false assertion of fact. "The use of interrogative language alone does not entitle statements to constitutional protection where . . . they otherwise can be understood as implying defamatory fact." Weller v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 991, 1004.

Nor can you get away (necessarily) by putting "I think" in front of an otherwise defamatory remark. Jackson v. Paramount Pictures Corp. 68 Cal.App.4th 10, 30 (citations omitted) ("It would be destructive of the law of libel if a writer could escape liability for accusations of [defamatory conduct] simply by using, explicitly or implicitly, the words ‘I think."’)

The lesson here is that there are no magic words. What matters is the substance/tenor/context of each statement.

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