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Understanding Defamation Law

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Defamation law follows the same basic definitions across most states –

1. statement must be published
2. statement must be false
3. statement must be about the person filing the suit even if they are not named in the statement
4. the plaintiffs reputation was harmed by the statement
5. the defendant acted negligently or with actual malice when publishing the statement
6. the statement is not protected under legally recognized privilege.

Defamation Law Per se

Some states recognize that certain types of statements are so slanderous or libelous the plaintiff does not have to prove harm was caused by the statement. Examples of these types of statements include false accusations of-

  • criminal offense
  • odious disease
  • grave sexual misconduct

The difference in Ohio defamation law is that where most states limit per se defamation Ohio has a very broad definition which was set in 1956 during the Becker v. Toulmin case where the court decided that any statement that brings ridicule, hatred, or contempt against a person’s character or injures his trade or profession by direct negative meaning and not through implication or innuendo can constitute defamation per se.

Private and public figures

All states do not define public officials and figures the same. Generally a public figure is either –

  • all-purpose public figures -celebrities, pro athletes and other types of famous people.
  • limited-purpose public figure -someone who places himself into the public’s eye.

The court requires a private figure to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with negligence by failing to “act reasonably in attempting to discover the truth or falsity or defamatory character of the publication.” Though most states require a plaintiff to prove the defendant acted negligently, Some states necessitate proof of a higher standard.

In nearly all states, public figures and officials are required to prove actual malice.

Though all courts do not recognize all privileges, most do allow for

  • substantial truth
  • opinion and fair comment
  • fair report

Generally, the statute of limitation for defamation is one year, though the actual limitation is determined by individual states.

*The laws and penalties regarding libel lawsuits vary for each state; however Ohio law presents a fair and clear representation of libel, and is used in this article to offer a basic understanding of defamation and libel civil law. The information contained in this article should not be construed at legal advice, and those facing a libel legal suit should seek counsel immediately.

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