Defining Defamation in Virginia
Defamation in Virginia is a false statement that is spoken and broadcast or written and published and heard or read by more than one person and that causes harm to the plaintiff.
Private Figure or Public Figure
A high level of public involvement is necessary for Virginia courts to deem a plaintiff a public figure or even a limited-purpose public figure. However, if they are deemed to be a public figure, they have the added burden of proving actual malice – that the statements made were intentionally meant to harm them. The burden of proof for this is on the plaintiff in the case.
Defenses Allowed for Defamation Cases
As with other states, Virginia holds truth to be an absolute defence. If a statement is proved to be true, there can be no defamation lawsuit. Additionally, Virginia does allow for privileged statements. In these cases, a statement that is made about a government meeting or something else that is in the public’s best interest.
Defamation Per Se Civil Suits are Permissible in Virginia
In Virginia, courts recognize that defamation per se exists and that in some cases damage should be assumed and not left to the plaintiff to prove. In Virginia, a statement is defamation per se if it:
- attributes to the plaintiff the commission of some criminal offense involving moral turpitude, for which the party, if the charge is true, may be indicted and punished;
- indicates that the plaintiff is infected with a contagious disease;
- attributes to the plaintiff unfitness to perform the duties of an office or employment of profit, or lack of integrity in the discharge of the duties of such an office or employment; or
- hurts the plaintiff in his or her profession or trade.
Recoverable Damages Allowed by Virginia State Law
There are three main types of damages that are allowed in Virginia for defamation lawsuits. The first is actual damages, which can be proven in court. There are also general damages, which may be harm to a person’s reputation in the community or something that affects them on an emotional level. Finally, there may also be punitive damages.