If a defendant publishes false statements that injure or disparage a plaintiff’s business, he may be liable for trade libel. Trade libel is different from libel because trade libel only applies to a plaintiff’s property, whereas libel applies to a plaintiff’s reputation.
A plaintiff must show that a defendant published false statements in writing or in print that were derogatory about the plaintiff’s business or products. He must also establish that the defendant’s actions actually negatively interfered with the plaintiff’s relations with others, such as customers or suppliers. The plaintiff may only be successful in a trade libel action if he can show that he suffered special damages, which must include a monetary loss.
Some courts require the plaintiff to show that the defendant acted with malice, which means that he acted with an evil intent to injure the plaintiff. On the other hand, some courts find that malice is presumed. Still other courts merely require that the defendant acted with an improper motive.
Example: A grocer who places an advertisement in a newspaper that falsely states that the products sold by a competing grocer do not meet the government standards for quality may be liable if such advertisement causes customers to stop purchasing those products.