Public or Private Defamation Plaintiffs

First Amendment constitutional considerations are different for public and private plaintiffs in defamation actions.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech prohibits public plaintiffs from recovering damages for a defamation that relates to his or her official conduct, unless the public plaintiff can prove the allegedly defamatory statement was made with “actual malice,’ which means knowledge by the defendant that the statement was false or that the defendant displayed reckless disregard of its truth. The actual malice requirement for public plaintiff defamation plaintiffs applies to candidates for public office or to people who while they may not have been public officials nor candidates for office, were in some way public figures.

The “reckless disregard” aspect of actual malice requires sufficient proof to conclude that the defendant seriously doubted the truth of the alleged defamatory publication. In other words, not even a plain failure to investigate suffices to prove reckless disregard in a public figure case.

The First Amendment implications in defamation actions filed by private individuals are different than for public figures. The individual states of the United States may impose liability based on less rigorous standards than for public figures, which for public figures is essentially governed entirely by United States Supreme Court decisions.

In private party defamation cases, liability must be imposed based on proof of fault, and punitive damages are available only on proof of actual malice. Recoveries are limited to compensate actual injury, which by definition is impairment of reputation or community standing in the community, mental anguish, public opprobrium, etc., all of which must be proved with competent evidence. The extent of damage must be proved even if the fact of damage is presumed as in a libel per se action.

The attorneys at Lubin Austermuehle have over thirty years of experience defending and prosecuting defamation, slander libel and cyber smear lawsuits. We are knowledgeable regarding the changes and complexities of this evolving area of the law. We are committed to fighting for our clients' rights in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. Conveniently located in Chicago and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have successfully litigated non-compete and trade secret and covenant not to compete cases for clients all over the Chicago area. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, you can contact us online or give us a call on our toll-free number at (833) 306-4933 or locally at (630) 333-0333.

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