Defamation in Iowa consists of the torts of libel and slander—libel consists of written statements and slander consists of oral statements. Defamation laws in Iowa embody the public policy that persons should be free to enjoy their reputation unimpaired by false and defamatory attacks. An action for defamation is based on a violation of this right.
The statute of limitations for defamation actions in Iowa is two years. To establish a claim for defamation, a plaintiff must show the following: (1) The defendant published a statement to a third party that (2) was defamatory, (3) false, (4) malicious, and (5) of and concerning the plaintiff, and (6) resulted in injury or damage to the plaintiff. There are two types of libel—libel per se and libel per quod. Defamatory statements are libel per se if it is an attack on the integrity and moral character of the plaintiff, for example, accusing someone of criminal activity and accusing someone of professional misconduct or incompetency. Otherwise, defamatory statements are libel per quod. Regarding statements that are libelous per se, falsity, malice, and injury are presumed and proof thereof are not necessary. Regarding statements that are libel per quod, the plaintiff must prove some type of injury, such as injury to reputation. The plaintiff must show more than just hurt feelings. If successful, a plaintiff in a defamation action can recover damages, including actual damages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.
For media defendant cases, a private individual must prove (1) publication (2) of a defamatory statement (3) of and concerning the plaintiff (4) in negligent breach of the professional standard of care (5) that resulted in a demonstrable injury. On the other hand, for media cases involving plaintiffs who are public figures, the public figure must also prove that the statement was made with actual malice. Actual malice means knowledge of falsity of the defamatory statements or a reckless disregard for the truth.
There are some defenses to defamation actions in Iowa, including truth and substantial truth, opinions, qualified privilege, and for news media defendants, the fair reporting privilege. If a person desires to bring a defamation action or if a person or entity is sued for defamation, it is important consult with an attorney promptly.