Washington Defamation Laws

Defining Defamation in Washington State

Defamation in Washington state comes in two forms – libel or slander. Libel is a false statement that is printed while slander is one that is spoken to one or more people. There is a two-year statute of limitations for defamation lawsuits to be filed in Washington.

Private Figure or Public Figure

In Washington, the courts rely heavily on limited-purpose public figures. The definition of a limited-purpose public figure is a person that invited public debate around an issue or statement they made or uses their involvement to create public discussion. In cases like these, there is the further requirement that actual malice must be proven by the plaintiff in the case.

Defenses Allowed for Defamation Cases

In Washington state, truth is an absolute defense against charges of libel or slander. If a statement is proved to be true, there are no grounds for filing a defamation lawsuit. Additionally, there are other defenses available as well, including statements of privilege. This happens in a case where the public or general population is helped by the publication or broadcast of statements.

Defamation Per Se Civil Suits are Permissible in Washington State

As with many other states, per se defamation lawsuits are possible in Washington state. In these cases, the offending statement is considered automatically to have caused damages, taking the burden of proof for this off of the plaintiff. The exact statements that can be considered defamation per se in Washington state vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Recoverable Damages Allowed by Washington State Law

There are three basic types of damages that are allowed by Washington state law. They are actual damages – which can be proven – general damages and punitive damages. General damages are those that are caused by someone having their reputation or good name harmed and having that affect their business or personal life. Punitive damages are extra damages sometimes awarded by the court.