Pennsylvania Defamation Law: A Legal Introduction
Pennsylvania defamation laws adhere to federal standards. However, the Keystone State’s statutes feature a few unique variables.
Pennsylvania Defamation Law: Private and Public Figures
Believe it or not, different standards apply for public and private figures.
In Pennsylvania, the following categories fall under the public figure umbrella:
- Limited-purpose public figures (private people who find themselves in the spotlight);
- All-purpose public figures (famous people); or
- Public figures (politicians, other public officials, government workers, and prominent community members).
To win a PA slander or libel lawsuit, plaintiffs who fall into the above groups must usually prove actual malice.
Persons previously defined as public figures in Pennsylvania:
- Police Officers
- Professional Athletes
- Public School Teachers and Administrators
- Union Officials
- Political Candidates
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 defamation 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 plaintiffs must prove that their respective defendants willingly made false statements of fact or acted negligently by broadcasting or publishing the contested comments.
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.