Wisconsin Defamation Laws

Defining Defamation in Wisconsin

Defamation in Wisconsin constitutes anything that directs hate, ridicule, contempt, degradation, disgrace or degradation to a person or business. According to Wisconsin State statutes, defamation, slander, and libel are considered a criminal offense — a Class A Misdemeanor – punishable by a fine of no more than $10,000 and/or 9 months in prison for someone who intentionally communicates any defamatory statement to a third party without the permission of the defamed party.

If a person is going to bring a cause of action against a party allegedly guilty of defamation, a cause of action must commence within two years of the alleged defamatory statement according to Wisconsin’s statute of limitations.

Defining who is a Public Figure

A public figure, as defined by Wisconsin state law, is a person who is in the public eye due to notoriety or fame in general. The person may also be considered a public figure if he or she publicly engages in a public controversy, but is only considered a public figure in relation to that particular controversy. For a public figure to bring charges of defamation against an alleged guilty party, the plaintiff must prove the defendant made the alleged statement with actual malice toward the plaintiff. This means the defendant knew he made a false statement or had no regard for whether or not the statement was true.

Defenses for Defamation in Wisconsin

There are certain defenses for defamation that are allowed within the scope of Wisconsin’s defamation statutes. A valid defense for an alleged defamatory statement is the absolute truth based on objective facts.

A news agency can invoke the fair report privilege under Wisconsin law when the sources of their reporting are public or legislative proceedings, public statements made by the party claiming defamation — whether part of a speech or public debate.

Wisconsin is a Per Se State

Someone who allegedly has been defamed per se can file a cause of action against someone who allegedly made a defamatory statement similar to one of the example statements listed below:

  • “John Jones has AIDS.” – Alleging a person has a sexually transmitted disease.
  • “Stacy Smith acts like a two-bit whore.” – Making false statements about a woman’s chastity.
  • “Mark Markson cooks his company’s books.” – Attacking a person’s moral character.

In cases such as these, the plaintiff does not have to prove actual damages that may have come as a result of the defendants alleged statements because these types of statements are in and of themselves defamatory.

A Remedy to Defamation before a Cause of Action is Filed

The presumed plaintiff in a defamation case must give the responsible party an opportunity to retract their defamatory statements. The responsible party has one week after receiving written notice from the presumed plaintiff to either retract or print a correction. If the original alleged defamatory statement made by the publication (hard copy or online) or news agency is held to be true, the alleged defendants can use that as defense for not retracting or correcting the original statement.

Damages Awarded for Defamation in Wisconsin

Among the damages for defamation in Wisconsin include:

  • punitive damages
  • compensatory damages
  • emotional and mental distress

Damages can be mitigated for media outlets if a retraction is made within one week of receiving notice from the defamed party.