Defamation is the general term for a legal claim involving injury to one’s reputation caused by a false statement of fact. The two sub-categories of defamation are Libel and Slander. Speaking in general terms, Libel is written defamation, while Slander is spoken defamation. A key part of any defamation action is falsity of the allegedly defamatory statement. Truthful statements that harm a person’s reputation will not create liability for defamation.
Under Illinois law, the elements of a defamation claim can be broken down into the following parts:
- The defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff
- There was an “unprivileged” publication to a third party
- Fault by the defendant of “negligence” or worse
- The publication damaged the plaintiff’s reputation
In Illinois, certain statements constitute “defamation per se,” meaning that the defamation victim need not prove actual harm. This is because Illinois courts recognize some statements are so egregious and harmful that they will always harm a person’s reputation. In Illinois, a statement that does any of the following things is defamation per se:
- States that the plaintiff is infected with a “loathsome communicable disease” (e.g. a sexually transmitted disease, HIV, hepatitis, etc.)
- States that the plaintiff has a lack of ability to perform their professional duties, or otherwise harms the plaintiff in their professional reputation
- States that the plaintiff lacks integrity in their professional duties
- States that the plaintiff has committed fornication or adultery
- States that the plaintiff has committed a criminal act
In Illinois, an action for defamation needs to be commenced within one year of the publication of the defamatory statement.
This article is intended as a very brief overview of defamation law in the state of Illinois, and is no substitute for the advice of an attorney. Defamation law can be quite complex, and is riddled with exceptions to the general rules discussed above. As just one example, spoken defamatory statements are generally classified as “Slander,” while written defamatory statements are generally classified as “Libel.” However, a defamatory statement spoken on the radio is classified as “Libel,” instead of “Slander.”