Missouri Defamation Standards
Missouri libel (written defamation) laws have specific standards related to publication. In Missouri, making a false accusation about a person to his face isn’t considered defamatory.
Under Missouri defamation law, the publication requirement is met if the defendant did have — or should have had — knowledge that the statement would become public. A statement is not actionable if, at some point, the plaintiff consented to the defendant’s publication or broadacast.
By definition, a defamatory statement must be false. A true but harmful statement may not be actionable under current defamation standards. However, plaintiff may be able to pursue a “public disclosure of private facts” claim.
Moreover, Missouri defamation laws say it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to show that the defendant made a substantial false statement of fact. In other words, the “burden of proof” falls on the plaintiff’s shoulders.
Missouri case law identifies defamation as being a) a precise and b) demonstrably false statement about the plaintiff. A statement that is overly vague — in either who it is targeting or what it means — may not be a winning case.
Damage to Reputation
Harm is a fundamental element of defamation law. An offensive but innocuous statement will not be covered by defamation law in Missouri.
Defamation Per Se? Not In Missouri.
In many jurisdictions — and federally — some statements are considered inherently harmful. The legal concept is known as defamation “per se.” (Loose Latin Translation: defamatory in it of itself) In per se cases, plaintiffs don’t have to prove how the contested statement harmed them — it’s just understood.
Examples of per se defamation situations:
- Allegations of a serious disease;
- Accusations of moral turpitude;
- Claims of professional inefficiency, or;
But ban news Missourians. The Show-Me State doesn’t follow federal law regarding defamation per se. While a federal claim concerning any of the above statements would not need to be supported with proof of damages, they would in Missouri.
Degree of Fault
A person who accidentally makes a defamatory statement can only be sued in certain cases.
A statement about a public official, celebrity, or a limited purpose public figure must be shown to have been published or broadcast with “actual malice.” For a private figure, the plaintiff only needs to show that the defendant acted negligently.
Click here to read more about defamation laws in the United States.
Click here to speak with an attorney about your Missouri defamation questions.