Pennsylvania Defamation Law: A Legal Introduction

Pennsylvania defamation law

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:

  1. Limited-purpose public figures (private people who find themselves in the spotlight);
  2. All-purpose public figures (famous people); or
  3. 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
  • 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 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.