Defining Defamation in Washington State
To win a defamation lawsuit in Washington State, plaintiffs must prove (at the very least) that their respective defendants:
- Made a false and unprivileged statement of fact about the claimant;
- Caused harm to befall the plaintiff, through statements; and
- Acted with “reckless disregard for the truth” by making the statements.
There are two types of defamation — libel and slander. Libel is written defamation; slander is spoken defamation.
Washington State’s defamation statute of limitations is two years.
Private Figure or Public Figure
Like all states, WA law differentiates between public and private figures who are filing defamation claims. Public figures and limited-purpose public figures (people who aren’t “famous” but become entangled in a matter of public interest) must prove “actual malice,” while private individuals only need to meet a negligence standard.
Defenses Allowed for Defamation Cases
In Washington state, truth is an absolute defense against libel and slander. If a statement is proved accurate, there are no grounds for a defamation claim. Privilege and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act are also common defenses against slander and libel in Washington.
Defamation Per Se Civil Suits are Permissible in Washington State
As with many states, per se defamation lawsuits are possible in Washington. In these cases, the offending statement is considered automatically to have caused damages (i.e., calling someone a criminal), lifting the plaintiff’s burden of proof. The exact statements that can be considered defamation per se in Washington state vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Recoverable Damages Allowed by Washington State Law
There are three basic types of defamation damages allowable by Washington State law. They are:
- Actual damages – which can be proven – general damages and punitive damages.
- General damages — which are caused by someone having their reputation or good name harmed and having that affect their business or personal life.
- Punitive damages — which are extra damages, meant to punish, sometimes awarded by the court.