Arizona Defamation Laws & Standards

Arizona defamation law
Arizona Slander and Libel Laws

Arizona Defamation Law:

A statement that brings a plaintiff into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule, or impeaches a plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation.

Whether a statement is considered defamatory or not is determined by the “natural and probable effect a reading of the entire statement, in context, would have on the mind of the average reader.”

Four Elements of Defamation Under Arizona State Law

  1. Defendant made, said or wrote a false statement of fact;
  2. Statement was communicated to a third party;
  3. Statement caused material harm to the plaintiff;
  4. At the time the statement was made, the defendant knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard for the truth (“public figure” plaintiffs), or was negligent in determining the truth (“private figure” plaintiffs).

Public Figure vs. Private Figure Under Arizona Defamation Law

In the United States, federal defamation law distinguishes between private and public individuals. Plaintiffs who are public figures must prove actual malice to win a defamation lawsuit.

Public Officials And Some Government Employees Are Public Figures For Purposes of Defamation Lawsuits in Arizona

In Arizona, public workers, officials and figures – both limited and all purpose – qualify as “public figures” and therefore must meet the standard of actual malice when pursuing a slander or libel lawsuit related to their capacity as a “public figure.”

Public officials are any elected politicians, teachers, FAA inspectors, sheriffs and deputies; even student-body members, at a state university, can qualify as public figures for the purposes of a defamation lawsuit in Arizona.

All-Purpose Public Figures in Arizona

An all-purpose public figure in Arizona is defined as anyone with “such pervasive fame or notoriety that he [or she] becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts.”

Limited-Purpose Public Figures in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court established that a limited-purpose public figure is any individual who “voluntarily injects [themselves] or is drawn into a particular public controversy,” however, an individual “is not automatically transformed into a public figure just by becoming involved in or associated with a matter that attracts public attention,” instead, “the person must voluntarily assume a position that invites attention.”

Advertising & Public Figures in Arizona

In Arizona, advertising does not necessarily mean someone is interjecting themselves into the proverbial spot-light, and does not necessarily make the party a public figure.

Private Figure Defamation Plaintiff Standard in Arizona

In Arizona, if the defamation lawsuit does not involve a public figure, only common law negligence standards must be met.

Defenses for Defamation in Arizona

Arizona statutes and case law establish that truth is a complete defense for defamation.

Substantial Truth

The law of the Arizona land says that “slight inaccuracies” don’t make a statement false if the overall message is substantially true.

Opinion and Fair Comment

Opinion and fair comment are also acceptable defenses, however, if actual malice is proven, then opinion and fair comment can be defeated.

Fair Report Privilege

The fair report privilege, while not often used, is also a valid defense under Arizona defamation law. Meaning, if a reporter relies on public records to craft a story, she may be granted fair report privileges and not be found liable, if charged with slander or libel.

Wire Service Defense

The “wire service defense” is also another legal theory that has been used to defeat defamation charges in Arizona. For example, if a television affiliate broadcasts a show, but had no hand in developing or planning the program, they could be found not guilty of slander or libel in an Arizona court.

Single Publication Rule in Arizona Defamation Law

Arizona adheres to the single-publication rule, meaning “any form of mass communication or aggregate publication . . . is a single communication and can give rise to only one action for libel.” This applies to broadcast and print media. When a case involves the Internet, however, the rules vary slightly. For example, if you publish the same defamatory content on 15 different websites, you can be charged for each instance, since each of the websites constitutes a different media outlet.

Per Se and Per Quod Defamation in Arizona

Arizona recognizes both per se slander and libel, in addition to per quod slander and libel. Per se is a legal standard in which damage is presumed, whereas per quod, is when the plaintiff must prove the damages caused by the defamatory act.

Allowable Defamation Damages in Arizona State

Arizona laws allow for the following damages when deliberating a defamation case:

  1. Reputation impairment
  2. Impairment of community standing or future standing
  3. Emotional distress
  4. Humiliation
  5. Inconvenience
  6. Anxiety and future anxiety
  7. Monetary Loss

Punitive damages are also allowed in slander and libel lawsuits.

Retractions & Apologies Under AZ Defamation Statutes

In cases that do not involve a public figure, if a defaming party is a print, telephonic or broadcast outlet, damages may be limited to a retraction or correction; if the correction is not made within a given time frame (usually 20 days), then the plaintiff can seek punitive damages, if he or she can prove actual malice.

Defamation Statute of Limitations in Arizona

The defamation statute of limitations in Arizona is one year from publication; however, an exception exists in situations where the publication of the defamatory material was purposefully left concealed from the plaintiff – like in incidents involving a confidential memo.  In those situations, the clock starts ticking at the date of discovery.

Online Defamation Statute of Limitations

In 2014, an Arizona appellate court ruled that the 1-year online defamation statute of limitations clock resets every time statements are republished.

Miscellaneous Defamation Law Standards and Definitions in Arizona

  • Libel is written defamation; slander is defamation by speech or another transitory form.
  • Reckless disregard is when a person has serious doubts as to whether or not a statement is true, but publishes the information anyway. Reckless disregard is also when someone consciously disregards whether a statement is true or not.
  • Negligence is defined as a simple failure to act as a reasonable person would in a given circumstance. It can involve either action or inaction.
  • In Arizona, if a defamatory statement is repeated by third-party, the person being charged can be held responsible in some cases.
  • At least one federal court in Arizona has ruled that the retraction statute only applies to “libel actions based on newspaper or magazine articles” and does not apply to comments made on an online forum.