Can I sue someone if they insult me?

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Being insulted by another person can be hurtful, embarrassing and damaging. Much of the time we’re told just to develop a thicker skin and move on, but what if the insult is an attack on you or your ability as a person? When it goes this far, it can be considered defamation.

1.Damaging a person’s reputation

In March 2015, the South Gauteng High Court awarded a human resource manager R50 000 in damages, plus legal costs, after she was called a liar and an unintelligent white girl (Nadia van der Westhuizen v Morgan Motlogelwa Ntshabelele, case 2014/27063). The court upheld her claim for damages and agreed that she suffered damage to her reputation as a result of the defamatory remarks made by the defendant.

The defendant, who uttered the defamatory remarks in the presence of fellow employees, including the plaintiff, was retrenched by the employer. The defendant later made further utterances that the court held were per se defamatory. The defendant did not oppose the application.

2.When is it defamation?

A statement is defamatory if it is likely to injure the good esteem in which a person is held by the reasonable average person to whom it has been published. It includes not only statements that expose a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, but also statements that are likely to humiliate or belittle the plaintiff; which tend to make him or her look foolish, ridiculous or absurd or which render the plaintiff less worthy of respect by his or her peers.

3.What can the court do?

The court may exercise its own discretion when awarding damages. Relevant factors for the court to consider include the seriousness of the defamatory statements, falseness, nature and extent of the publication of the statement, malice, rank or social status, the absence of an apology, motive and the general conduct of the defendant.

The conclusion is that you should be careful what you say to others, especially if what you are saying is not true or has the intention to harm/hurt the other person.


This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

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