Missouri Defamation Law & Standards
Missouri Defamation Standards
Missouri libel (written defamation) laws have specific standards related to publication. In Missouri, making a false accusation about a person to his face isn’t considered defamatory.
Under Missouri defamation law, the publication requirement is met if the defendant did have — or should have had — knowledge that the statement would become public. A statement is not actionable if, at some point, the plaintiff consented to the defendant’s publication or broadacast.
By definition, a defamatory statement must be false. A true but harmful statement may not be actionable under current defamation standards. However, plaintiff may be able to pursue a “public disclosure of private facts” claim.
Moreover, Missouri defamation laws say it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to show that the defendant made a substantial false statement of fact. In other words, the “burden of proof” falls on the plaintiff’s shoulders.
Missouri case law identifies defamation as being a) a precise and b) demonstrably false statement about the plaintiff. A statement that is overly vague — in either who it is targeting or what it means — may not be a winning case.
Damage to Reputation
Harm is a fundamental element of defamation law. An offensive but innocuous statement will not be covered by defamation law in Missouri.
Defamation Per Se? Not In Missouri.
In many jurisdictions — and federally — some statements are considered inherently harmful. The legal concept is known as defamation “per se.” (Loose Latin Translation: defamatory in it of itself) In per se cases, plaintiffs don’t have to prove how the contested statement harmed them — it’s just understood.
Examples of per se defamation situations:
- Allegations of a serious disease;
- Accusations of moral turpitude;
- Claims of professional inefficiency, or;
But ban news Missourians. The Show-Me State doesn’t follow federal law regarding defamation per se. While a federal claim concerning any of the above statements would not need to be supported with proof of damages, they would in Missouri.
Degree of Fault
A person who accidentally makes a defamatory statement can only be sued in certain cases.
A statement about a public official, celebrity, or a limited purpose public figure must be shown to have been published or broadcast with “actual malice.” For a private figure, the plaintiff only needs to show that the defendant acted negligently.