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Is There A Statute of Limitations on Defamation?

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If a person or company makes false, untrue statements about you, you must act quickly in order to file a defamation lawsuit within the defamation statute of limitations. A defamation lawsuit is a civil lawsuit or tort action that will allow you to recover for the damage to your reputation that you experience as a result of libelous (written) or slanderous (oral) statements. Damages from defamation can be considerable and if you fail to file within the defamation statute of limitations, you can be barred from recovery entirely.

What Is Required to Prove a Defamation Lawsuit?

You can sue for defamation when certain criteria are met:

  • Someone made false statements about you
  • The person making the statements either knew they were false or behaved negligently in determining whether they were false. This is the standard as long as you are not a celebrity or public figure. If you are famous or have put yourself in the public eye, then you have to prove that the false statements were made either on purpose or with reckless disregard as to their truth
  • The statements were made publicly. If the statements were made in written form in a public forum, you can sue for libel. If the statements were spoken in a public forum, you can sue for slander.
  • Your reputation was actually harmed by the statements. This means you must prove that people could reasonably have believed the statements, and that the statements did some type of damage to you or your standing.

What Is the Defamation Statute of Limitations?

If all of the above criteria are met, you can bring a lawsuit in which you are potentially awarded monetary payment for the damages you suffered. However, you must bring this lawsuit within the defamation statute of limitations or you forfeit your right to sue.

The defamation statute of limitations varies by state. The states with the longest statutes of limitations include Arkansas, which has a three-year statute of limitations for libel; and Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Vermont, which have a three-year statute of limitations for either libel or slander. Most other statutes have either a one-year or two year statute of limitations. Tennessee has the shortest statute of limitations for slander, giving you only six months to sue when someone makes a spoken statement that defames your character.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin to Run?

In most cases, the statute of limitations begins to run when the injury occurred, or when the statements were made. If you do not discover the defamatory statements until later, you may be able to have the statute of limitations extended if you can prove the delay in discovery was reasonable. If other exigent conditions resulted in your inability to sue, you may also be able to extend the statute of limitations. Possible examples of exigent conditions include medical incapacity, being under eighteen and thus unable to sue, or if you were serving in active combat in the military. The court will typically review exigent conditions on a case-by-case basis to determine if justice demands an extension of the statute of limitations.

In general, it is best to act quickly if someone defames your character so that you can file suit within the defamation statute of limitations and ensure you get the justice you deserve.

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