Defamation in Virginia
Defamation is an unprivileged and false statement of fact, recklessly disseminated to a third party, which causes harm to the subject of the declaration. Slander is spoken defamation; libel is written or graphic defamation.
The defamation statute of limitations in Virginia is one year.
Truthful Statements Aren’t Defamatory
Under Virginia law, truth is an absolute defense for slander or libel. One party can say a terrible, but accurate, thing about another party. Moreover, for a comment to qualify as defamatory, it must be provably false. In other words, calling someone a “jerk” wouldn’t meet the defamation bar because personal standards of morality and behavior are subjective opinions.
Pure Opinions Aren’t Defamatory; Mixed Opinions Can Be
Sometimes, people mix opinion with fact. In such circumstances, it’s possible to be successfully sued for defamation. For example, writing or saying “in my opinion” before making a false statement of fact won’t protect you from the long arm of the law.
Public Figures and Private Individuals: Proof Standards Differ
Convention says: It’s “good to be king.” And mostly, the adage holds true — except in defamation cases. Why? Because public officials, public figures, and limited-purpose public figures must meet a higher standard of proof than private individuals to win slander and libel lawsuits. What’s the difference? Public parties must meet the standard of “actual malice” and private individuals typically only have to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.
Defamation Per Se
In average slander and libel cases, plaintiffs must prove how the statement at issue caused them injury. In some instances, though, the harm is intrinsically understood, and claimants are waived from showing damage; such cases are known as defamation per se cases. The standard kicks in when a party is accused of:
- A criminal act of moral turpitude;
- Having a contagious disease;
- Certain professional slights;
Usually, it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove falsity. But in defamation per se cases, it’s the defendant’s burden to demonstrate that his or her statement is true.