Defining Defamation in Iowa
Defamation in Iowa is any statement that can injure a person’s reputation, incite hatred, or cause economic damage to a business. A plaintiff can bring a cause of action for defamation when such statements are made to a third party by the defendant — either with actual malice or negligently. It is the plaintiffs responsibility to prove that the defendant:
- Made an unprivileged false statement of fact;
- Made a statement that caused material harm for the plaintiff;
- Was referring to the plaintiff and not someone else; and
- Acted either negligently or with actual malice.
The Iowa defamation statute of limitations is two years.
Public vs. Private Figures Under Iowa Defamation Law
Under Indiana defamation law, government officials — elected or appointed — and celebrities — both longstanding and limited purpose — are considered public figures for the purposes of a slander or libel lawsuit.
Public figures have a harder time litigating defamation cases because they must prove actual malice existed on the part of the defendant. A private figure, on the other hand, only has to prove that the defendant was negligent when making defamatory claims.
Defenses for Defamation in Iowa
Iowa allows defendants to defend themselves on the basis of truth. The fair reporting privilege also applies to news agencies that are sued for slander or libel.
Under the fair reporting privilege, news agencies can defend themselves by publishing a conspicuous retraction either voluntarily or when demanded by the plaintiff. When the plaintiff demands that a retraction of defamatory content be made, the publication has two weeks to do so. Complying with the plaintiff’s demand for retraction mitigates the damages the plaintiff can recover should a jury find in favor of the plaintiff. If the defendant fails to comply with the plaintiff’s demand for retraction, then the jury can award full damages, including exemplary damages, to the plaintiff.
Iowa is a Per Se State
Defamation per se, in Iowa, is any statement or publication that is inherently slanderous or libelous. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Statements related to the plaintiff’s sexual promiscuity;
- Statements related to the plaintiff having a disease that many people find loathsome;
- Accusations of criminal activity; and
- Accusations of professional misconduct or incompetency.
Since per se statements are, in and of themselves, defamatory, the plaintiff does not have to prove damages. The exception, however, comes with political candidates. A political candidate cannot sue for defamation regarding his or her alleged sexual misconduct if the defamatory statement was printed with less than two weeks before election day.
Damages Awarded for Defamation in Iowa
Among the damages for defamation in Iowa include:
- Actual Damages
- Compensatory Damages
- Punitive Damages