Rhode Island Defamation Laws and Standards

Rhode Island defamation laws
Rhode Island Slander and Libel Laws

Defining Defamation in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, defamation is a false statement of fact (spoken or written) about an individual, business, or group, communicated to one or more party, which causes harm.

The statute of limitations for defamation in Rhode Island can vary. R.I.G.L § 9-1-14 states:

“(a) Actions for words spoken shall be commenced and sued within one year next after the words spoken (b) Actions for injuries to the person shall be commenced and sued within three (3) years next after the cause of action shall accrue, and not after.”

Rhode Island Defamation: Private Figure or Public Figure

As in other states, public and private figures are beholden to different defamation standards in Rhode Island. Public persons must prove that defendants acted with “actual malice.” Private individuals, typically, are only required to show negligence or reckless disregard for the truth.

Rhode Island Defamation Defenses

Federal defamation defense standards apply in Rhode Island.

  1. Privilege: An Effective Defamation Defense
  2. Five Defamation Defenses
  3. Fair Comment as a Defamation Defense

Unusually, under Rhode Island defamation laws, truth cannot be used as a defense when a statement is made with malicious motives. (R.I. Const. art. I, § 20; R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-6-9 (1998)).

Defamation Per Se in Rhode Island

In defamation per se cases damages are assumed. For example, the harm associated with criminal accusations is inherently understood. As such, people suing for defamation over untrue criminal accusations typically don’t have to prove harm, because, (to borrow a Dothraki phrase), “it is known.” Accusations of moral turpitude also fall under the per se umbrella.

Recoverable Defamation Damages

Outside of per se cases,  plaintiffs must prove that they defendants caused material or reputational harm by publishing or broadcasting the statement at hand. Typically, claimants seek a combination of special (actual) and punitive damages.