In California Defamation Cases, What is the Difference Between “Per Se” and “Per Quod”?

What is the difference between “Per Se” and “Per Quod” in a San Diego or Los Angeles defamation case? If a statement is obviously defamatory on its face, and would be widely perceived as harmful, then it qualifies as libel or slander “Per Se”. Legal examples of defamation Per Se include untrue statements about a person carrying a communicable disease, or that they’ve been convicted of a crime or are professionally incompetent. “Bob has AIDS”, or “Sheila is a convicted felon,” or “Every time Dr. Smith operates on a patient he commits malpractice.”

Defamation can also be classified as “Per Quod”, which does not appear to be defamatory on its face. If an allegedly defamatory publication requires an expert or other explanatory information to explain the libel or slander, then the defamation is Per Quod. If you need extrinsic evidence that doesn’t appear on the face of the defamatory statement – then the statement is defamation Per Quod.

One example would be a scientist’s research paper on pesticides. If the paper is described in a scientific review as including false data and manipulated results, i.e., where one scientist accuses another that the conclusion drawn isn’t possible given the false data, a lay person would not know how to interpret the findings or their ramifications without being a scientist, expert in the science of pesticides. There is no way for the average person to understand the meaning of the dispute without additional information.

Here is another example of slander per se as opposed to slander per quod.

1. “Jim’s wife Jane is sleeping with Jack.” This is defamation per se. Jane is married to Jim. In older parlance (often still on the books), Jane lacks chastity and is an adulterer. A “reasonable” person would glean these meanings from the statement alone.

2. “Jane is sleeping with Jack.” This is defamation per quod. Only when the fact emerges that Jane is married to Jim can the recipient of the statement understand Jane’s chastity and adultery is involved.

Defamation cases have many moving parts and nuances. These cases require deep expertise to defend or pursue to a successful outcome. If you have questions, call us at 760-295-1311 to speak with an attorney with 30 years of experience.