Delaware Defamation: Legal Overview

delaware defamation law and lawyer
Delaware Slander and Libel Laws

Basic Delaware Defamation Definition

Under Delaware law, defamation is a false statement, either oral or written, communicated to a third party, which tends to put the subject in a less than favorable light.

For a statement to be deemed “defamatory” in Delaware, it must be false.

Spoken (oral) defamation is slander. Written (published) defamation is libel.

Delaware does not have a criminal defamation statute; all slander and libel claims are civil claims.

Example of a Defamation Lawsuit in Delaware
Person A falsely claims that Person B abuses chickens to Person  C. Person C is an chicken lover. C often does business with B (who sells chickens) but now refuses to do so because C believes B abuses chickens. In Delaware, B may have a civil claim against A for defamation.

Elements Required to Prove Defamation in Delaware

A cause of action for libel or slander in Delaware requires proving the following:

  • The defendant published or verbally broadcast a false communication of fact;
  • The communication under protest is about the plaintiff;
  • The statement in question caused material or reputational harm to the plaintiff;
  • The defendant acted either negligently or with actual malice.

Delaware doesn’t require a defamed person to be identified by name in a libelous or slanderous statement. There only needs to be enough information for a “reasonable person” to understand that the plaintiff is the target.

For example, the statement to a third person that “A local supermarket manager is a thief” might not identify the person sufficiently. But the statement, “the night manager of the convenience store at 100 Elm St. is a thief” may be sufficient. The key issue is whether the third party can identify the plaintiff from the statement.

Delaware Defamation Damages

As stated above, the plaintiff had to be damaged by the defamatory statement in order to win. Delaware defamation damages fall into four categories:

  1. Nominal Damages: If a judge or jury finds that a false statement of fact occurred, but no damage occurred, nominal damages may be awarded. For example, the plaintiff may be awarded $1.00.
  2. General Compensation Damages: General damages resulting from the defendant’s actions. For example, damage to a person’s reputation may occur if the plaintiff is wrongly and publicly called a thief.
  3. Special damages– Special damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for out of pocket expenses incurred due to the libel or slander.
  4. Punitive damages– Exemplary or punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defamation is intentional and malicious. These damages are considered a penalty against the defendant.

Defamation Per Se in Delaware

Defamation per se is a statement considered inherently damaging to a person’s reputation or community standing. Delaware recognizes four types of statements as defamatory per se:

  1. A disparaging statement intended to hurt a person in his or her trade or business;
  2. A statement indicating commission of a crime of moral turpitude;
  3. Implying a person suffers from a repugnant disease; and
  4. Disparaging statements regarding the sexual activities.

There are exceptions. For instance, it’s mandatory to report child abuse in Delaware. If a person does so, and are wrong, they may be protected by privilege and no defamation claim may be made. But for the privilege to exist, the statement must be made in good faith. If the person files a knowingly false report, no privilege exists.

Delaware Defamation Statute of Limitations

Delaware carries a two-year statute of limitations for defamation. Unlike states that have a separate statute of limitations for intentional actions, Delaware uses the personal injuries statute.

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