Wisconsin Defamation Laws
Defining Defamation in Wisconsin
Defamation in Wisconsin constitutes anything that directs hate, ridicule, contempt, degradation, or disgrace to a person or business. Under Wisconsin State statutes, slander (spoken defamation), and libel (written defamation) can rise to a criminal offense — a Class A Misdemeanor – punishable by a fine of no more than $10,000 and/or 9 months in prison.
If a person is going to allege defamation, a cause of action must commence within two years of the alleged defamatory statement.
Defining Public Figures For The Purposes Of A Defamation Claim
A public figure, as defined by Wisconsin, is a person in the public eye due to incidental notoriety or general fame. A person may also be considered a public figure if he or she engages in a public controversy, but such status is only in relation to that particular dispute. Public figure plaintiffs must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice when making the statement at issue. In the simplest terms, this means the defendant knew the statement was false but said it anyway.
Defenses for Defamation in Wisconsin
As is the case across the United States, absolute truth is a valid defamation defense.
A news agency can invoke the fair report privilege under Wisconsin law when the sources of their reporting are public or legislative proceedings. Additionally, different types of legal “privilege” are often used as defenses against slander and libel.
Wisconsin is a Per Se State
In defamation per se cases, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove “harm” because the impact is understood to be inherently damaging. Examples:
- “John Jones has AIDS.” – Alleging a person has a sexually transmitted disease is defamatory per se under Wisconsin law.
- “Stacy Smith acts like a two-bit whore.” – Making false statements about a woman’s chastity meets the standard.
- “Mark Markson cooks his company’s books.” – Attacking a person’s professional character is considered inherently harmful.
A Remedy to Defamation before a Cause of Action
The presumed plaintiff in a defamation case must give the responsible party an opportunity to retract their defamatory statements. Would-be defendants have one week after receiving written notice from the plaintiff to either retract or print a correction.
Damages Awarded for Defamation in Wisconsin
Defamation damages in Wisconsin include:
- Punitive Damages
- Compensatory Damages
- Emotional and Mental Distress