New York Defamation Laws and Standards

New York Defamation Law Summary

New York’s Definition of Defamation

New York Defamation Definition: A false statement that is published or made known to a third party — deliberately or with negligence — without the knowledge or consent of the subject. Generally speaking, statements meant to maliciously degrade and humiliate are deemed defamatory.

New York Defamation Statute of Limitations

An aggrieved party has one year from publication or broadcast to file suit.

Public Figures and Private Figures Are Treated Differently Under New York Defamation Law

As is the case in every state, slander and libel laws differ for public and private citizens. Basically, certain people with a public (or governmental) profile must meet a higher preponderance of evidence in defamation lawsuits.

New York Courts employ the “vortex notion” when deciding someone’s status. People who would normally be deemed a private figure, are considered public figures if they draw public attention to themselves —like someone jumping into the vortex of a tornado.

Naturally, public figures include politicians and people recognized because of their notoriety and fame. Religious groups and restaurants fall  under the public figure definition, too.

If a public figure wants to bring a cause of action against a person or business over alleged defamatory statements, he or she must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice.

Defamation Defense in New York

New York recognizes myriad defenses in defamation of character cases, including (but not limited to):

New York and Per Se Damages

Plaintiffs in New York defamation of character cases can sue for per se damages, which means the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove economic loss or injury  because the defamatory statement was inherently harmful.

Under the per se standard, plaintiff can bring civil actions against defendants for making false, injurious claims regarding sexual morality, disease status, criminality or professionalism.

Opportunity to Retract

Defendants have an opportunity to mitigate punitive damages by retracting defamatory material. However, this doesn’t release the defendant from liability with regard to compensatory damages.

Damages Awarded for Defamation in New York

  • Actual Damages
  • Compensatory Damages
  • Punitive Damages

Case Law in New York for Per Se Causes of Action

The New York State Court of Appeals ruled that being called gay doesn’t meet the defamatory per se bar. In his written opinion, Justice Thomas Mercure states, “[being called gay] equates individuals who are lesbian, gay or bisexual with those who have committed a ‘serious crime’ – one of the four established in per se categories.”  Therefore, he concluded, that LGBTQ accusations don’t meet the per se test for defamation of character in New York State.