Pennsylvania Defamation Law: The Basics

Pennsylvania Defamation Law
Slander and libel laws in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania defamation law adheres to federal standards; however, the Keystone State’s statutes feature a few unique variables.

Pennsylvania Defamation Law: Private and Public Figures

Whether a defamation plaintiff is a private or public figure matters because different standards apply.

In Pennsylvania, the following categories fall under the public figure umbrella:

  1. Limited-purpose public figures (private people who find themselves in the spotlight);
  2. All-purpose public figures (famous people); or
  3. Public figures ( public officials,  government workers, or prominent community members).

To win a PA slander or libel lawsuit, plaintiffs who fall into one of the above groups usually must prove actual malice.

Persons previously defined as public figures in Pennsylvania:

  • Police Officers
  • Professional Athletes
  • CEOs
  • Public School Teachers and Administrators
  • Union Officials
  • Political Candidates
  • Celebrities

The following newsworthy figures have been deemed limited-purpose public figures:

  • A local entertainer who posed for an adult magazine;
  • A civil engineer; and
  • An art foundation president.

The point? You don’t have to be traditionally famous to be considered a public figure under Pennsylvania law.

The following figures were determined to be private figures:

  • A person who claimed to be an active, legitimate board member of a non-profit organization;
  • A dentist who collected state reimbursements for dental services he provided to lower-income patients;
  • The host of a private party whose neighbor called and complained to a local newspaper about an upcoming event.

Pennsylvania Defamation Law: Actual Malice and Negligence

Under Pennsylvanian law, a private figure defamation plaintiff must prove the defendant willingly made a false statement of fact or acted negligently in determining the accuracy of a statement.

Pennsylvania Defamation Law: Privileges and Defenses

Pennsylvania courts accept several defamation defenses including:

• Substantial Truth
• Fair Report Privilege
• Opinion and Fair Comment

However, proving actual malice, on the part of the defendant, typically trumps privilege defenses.

Statute of Limitations for Defamation In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanian defamation law defines a one-year statute of limitations.