Slander Special Harm Damages
Slander requires proof of "special harm" unless the statements were actionable per se. E.g., Franklin v. Thompson , 722 So.2d 692, 692 (Miss. 1998). Discussed below are slanders that are actionable per se and need no special harm. However, when special harm must be shown, this is required:
All other slanderous words, no matter how grossly defamatory or insulting they may be, . . . are actionable only upon proof of "special" damages -- special in the sense that it must be supported by specific proof, as distinct from the damage assumed to follow in the case of libel or of the kinds of slander that are actionable per se.
PROSSER, TORTS, 112 at 793. "Special harm . . is the loss of something having economic or pecuniary value. . . . the limitation that arose centuries ago has persisted in the requirement that special harm, to serve as the foundation of an action for slander that is not actionable per se, must be 'temporal, 'material,' pecuniary or economic in character." RESTATEMENT OF TORTS (SECOND) 575, cmt b.
However, once it is shown that special harm resulted from a slander that was not actionable per se, recovery may then also be had for emotional distress and resulting bodily harm. Id. 575 cmt. c.; see also id. 623, cmt a. ("neither emotional distress nor bodily harm resulting from it is special harm sufficient to support an action for a slander that is not actionable per se").
These rules may at first blush seem artificial, but their purpose is obvious enough. Slander is an unusual tort, where mere spoken words become actionable.
Everyday life contains risks of sharp words and wounded feelings, but also worse.
Brought forward from common law origins is a balancing of the competing interests of one person to speak and another to be free from harm.
Part of the balance struck is to require concrete harm before spoken words are actionable.