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Defamation in Indiana means that someone has “published,” verbally or by the written word, something that tends “to harm a person’s reputation by lowering the person in the community’s estimation or deterring third persons from dealing or associating with the person.”  

What is considered defamation in Indiana?

Defamation in Indiana means that someone has “published,” verbally or by the written word, something that tends “to harm a person’s reputation by lowering the person in the community’s estimation or deterring third persons from dealing or associating with the person.”   Rambo v. Cohen 587 N.E.2d 140,145 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992)  According to Indiana defamation law, the communication must be made maliciously and must result in harm to the complainant.  Id.  The defamatory statement is libel if written, and is slander if spoken.  So, both libel and slander are forms of defamation.

Are defamation cases hard to win?

Well, I would not say that they are easy to win.  For one thing, the defamed person must prove that the statement made was made about him or her.  In an action for libel or slander, it is sufficient to state generally that the defamatory matter published or spoken was about the plaintiff. If the defendant denies the allegation, the plaintiff must prove at trial the facts showing that the defamatory matter was published or spoken about the plaintiff.  IC 34-15-1-1

For another thing, if the statement is proved to be true or it falls under a privilege, the defamation action must fail.  In an action for libel or slander, the defendant may allege: (1) the truth of the matter charged as defamatory; and (2) mitigating circumstances to reduce the damages; and give either or both in evidence.  IC 34-15-1-2  Whether a statement is defamatory is a question of law.  Indiana law recognizes that there two types of defamatory statements.  Defamation per se and defamation per quod.  Per se means “by itself” or “taken alone.”  Per quod means “whereby,” and when used in the context of defamation means that the defamatory statement by itself is not actionable unless special damages caused by the statement are proved.  Thus, defamation per quod is much harder to prove than defamation per se.  

A third issue unique to defamation that may arise is when the defamatory statement was made by a radio, television or newspaper publication.  IC 34-15-3-3 and 34-15-4-3 limit damages for defamation against a radio, television and/or newspaper publication to the actual damages incurred by the person aggrieved of the defamatory statement(s).  Notice must be given to the offending publisher prior to filing the defamation lawsuit.  Then a published retraction given by the offender has the following effect:  

IC 34-15-3-3  Retraction mitigates damages

Sec. 3. The plaintiff in a suit described in section 1 of this chapter may recover only actual damages if it appears, upon trial of the action, that:

(1) the words or acts were conveyed and broadcast in good faith;

(2) the falsity of the words or acts was due to mistake or misapprehension of the facts; and

(3) a full and fair retraction of any words or acts alleged to be erroneous was conveyed or broadcast:

(A) on a regular program of the radio or television company;

(B) within ten (10) days after the mistake or misapprehension was brought to the knowledge of the manager; and

(C) at approximately the same time and by the same sending power so as to be as visible and audible as the original acts or words complained of.

This code section demonstrates the effect on a lawsuit after notice of defamation to a radio or television company.  A different, but similar code section applies to newspapers.  IC 34-15-4-3  It remains to be seen how these code sections might apply in the context of social media.  

What are some examples of defamation?

As stated, a case involving defamation per se is easier to prove that defamation per quod.  The categories of statements involving defamation per se in Indiana are communications that impute: 1) criminal conduct, 2) a loathesome disease, 3) misconduct in one’s profession, trade, office or occupation or 4) sexual misconduct.  Accordingly, nine times out of ten when you see a successful outcome for the plaintiff in a defamation case, it will involve one of these types of statements.  Some examples might be if someone were to untruthfully say 1) “I saw Tom commit a robbery last night,” 2) “I know Tom has HIV because I saw his medical records,” 3) “I saw Tom falsifying the records at his accounting firm and then destroying the files,” or 4) “I know that Tom is forcing his secretary to have sexual relations with him.”  If you believe that a similar statement was published by someone about you, and that you have been damaged by it, you should contact an Indiana defamation attorney.

How do you prove defamation in Indiana?

To succeed in a defamation lawsuit you must prove 1) a defamatory statement was made about you, 2) maliciously (i.e. without just cause or reason), 3) to the public, 4) which damaged you.  Rambo v. Cohen 587 N.E.2d 140,145 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992)  When the words, “the public” are used courts generally mean that the statement was not made to a closed group of people for a particular purpose (e.g. a job performance review among only supervisors or necessary staff).  The example of statements made at a performance review for the valid purpose of assessing job performance is not just an example of when a statement is not “published to the public,” it is also an example of a qualified privilege.  Some statements made for a valid purpose, such as a job performance review or statements made for the purpose of medical treatment or diagnosis, are privileged from prosecution for defamation because the statements are made for a valid purpose even if they ultimately prove to be untrue.

In addition to getting around the defenses of truth and qualified privilege, the complainant will also have to prove that he or she was damaged in a defamation of character lawsuit.  While cases involving defamation per se will get the benefit of presumed damages, once the negligence per se is proved, cases involving defamation per quod will never succeed if special damages aren’t provable.  Learn more about proving a defamation lawsuit, here.

Is it worth suing for defamation in Indiana?

If you have a case of defamation per quod, it may not be worth suing if you do not have enough special damages to cover the costs of your suit.  You should take into consideration the attorney’s fees, deposition costs and other expenses incurred in a typical lawsuit.  If you have a case of defamation per se, however, once you have proved the defamation per se, the “law presumes the plaintiff’s reputation has been damaged, and the jury may award a substantial sum for this presumed harm, even without proof of the actual harm.”  Rambo v. Cohen 587 N.E.2d 140,145 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992)  These are the considerations to keep in mind, as well as whether pursuing a defamation claim would give you enough peace of mind to make it worth your while to pursue.  If you believe your case is close, but not quite a defamation claim, learn more about what intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Can I sue someone for lying about me?

Yes, but as discussed, the most successful cases will involve defamation per se, will involve undisputed publication, will involve an undisputed falsehood, will not involve any type of privilege and will relate to the claimant’s livelihood.  While defamation of character is always damaging to the one suffering from the untrue statement(s), damages that affect the way in which one earns his or her living are easier to quantify.  If you think you have a case that meets all of the above criteria, you should contact a defamation lawyer in Indiana.

What is the statute of limitations on defamation in Indiana?

The statute of limitations for a libel, slander or defamation lawsuit is two (2) years after the cause of action accrues.  IC 34-11-2-4  You should contact an Indiana defamation lawyer before your rights are lost.

Posted 
September 30, 2021
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