Michigan Defamation Laws

Defining Defamation in Michigan

Defamation in Michigan is defined as causing harm to a person or business’ reputation by words communicated to a third party that are meant to degrade, humiliate, incite hatred or contempt toward a person or business.

In short, the offended party must prove a defamatory statement was made within one year of when the statement was made, why it is false, and if the statement is defamatory and the plaintiff seeks damages based on the per se or pro quod standards.

Public Figures and Private Figures Treated Differently Under the Law

Michigan views public figures as those who have gained some sort of notoriety in the public eye because of what the person has done to gain such notoriety — seeking elected office, holding a position of public trust, or possessing name recognition a reasonable person can identify. In order for a public figure to bring a civil suit against for defamation of character against an offending party, the public figure would have to prove actual malice existed on the part of the offending party.

Defamation Defense in Michigan

Truth, opinion, and general reporting are valid defenses allowed by the state of Michigan in defamation, slander, and libel cases. However, the alleged defamatory statement must be proven to be a general fact if the truth defense is employed by the alleged defendant. If the alleged defamatory statement is the defendants own opinion, then the defendant does not have to prove the statement was a matter of fact nor can his or her opinion be construed as a false statement.

Michigan is Per Se State – Only Regarding Chastity

Many states allow plaintiffs to sue for damages related to defamation per se. Defamation per se constitutes a statement that is and of itself defamatory. To say someone has a sexually transmitted disease, engages in criminal action, or to suggest someone is unchaste is defamatory per se. In Michigan, a person can only sue for defamation per se if an alleged offending party suggests or implies a person is sexually immoral. Then the aggrieved party can sue for damages without having to prove actual damages.

So-called business defamation — slander or libel regarding one’s business or profession — is not defamation per se in Michigan.

Opportunity to Retract

The plaintiff will not recover exemplary and punitive damages when he or she gives notice to the person or news agency reasonable notice to retract their statement in good faith and within a reasonable amount of time.  According to the statute in Michigan, any retraction made via television or radio shall be made at the same time of day and in the same manner as the original defamatory statement. For print publications, including the Internet, a published retraction must be in the same type, position, and editions as the original defamatory statement, or should be communicated substantially in the same way the original defamatory statement was made.

Damages Awarded for Defamation in Michigan

Among the damages for defamation in Michigan include:

  • punitive damages
  • compensatory damages
  • actual damages

As was mentioned previously, media outlets have the ability to mitigate the damages paid to the plaintiff by retracting their alleged defamatory statement. In such case, exemplary and punitive damages are not recovered by the plaintiff.