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Renee Babcoke

Have you been falsely accused of harming someone’s reputation or are you the victim of such defamation in Indiana? Knowing your rights under Indiana’s defamation laws is pivotal. This guide demystifies what ‘defamation of character Indiana’ entails—from proving false statements have damaged your reputation, to the disparate challenges faced by public figures, to navigating a suit in court.

What is considered defamation in Indiana?

Indiana defamation law

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 of a lawsuit after a 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 than defamation per quod.  The categories of statements involving defamation per se in Indiana are communications that impute: 1) criminal conduct, 2) a loathsome 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 ou, 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.

Common Defenses Against Defamation Claims in Indiana

For both plaintiff and defendant, defamation claims can carry severe consequences. However, Indiana law recognizes several defenses to defamation. Defenses such as truth, various privileges, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act can protect individuals against defamation claims.

The defense of substantial truth holds that if the essence of the alleged defamatory statement is true, any minor inaccuracies within it do not establish defamation. In such cases, the defendant denies the claim of defamation. Opinion and fair comment privileges defend expressions of opinion or commentary about matters of public interest, as long as they aren’t based on false facts. The fair report privilege provides a defense for those who fairly and accurately report on information from official records or proceedings.

Another defense that has gained prominence with the rise of online communication is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This federal law is recognized in Indiana and provides a defense in defamation cases, especially relevant to online and social media platforms. Understanding these defenses and how they apply to a specific case can be complex, highlighting the importance of experienced legal counsel.

Seeking Legal Help: When to Consult an Indiana Defamation Lawyer

Consulting an Indiana defamation lawyer

Consulting an experienced defamation lawyer in Indiana is a crucial move when confronted with a potential defamation case. An experienced attorney provides strong advocacy and ensures effective representation in legal proceedings, serving as your voice in court.

Besides representing your interests, a defamation attorney strives to obtain an appropriate resolution. They do this by:

  • Negotiating compensation for reputational harm
  • Negotiating compensation for emotional distress
  • Negotiating compensation for financial losses caused by defamation

Given the complexities of Indiana defamation law, having a skilled attorney by your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Remember, time is of the essence in defamation cases due to the statute of limitations. Therefore, if you believe you’re a victim of defamation, it’s crucial to seek legal help as soon as possible. Doing so can ensure that your rights are protected and that you have the best chance of securing a favorable outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prove defamation in Indiana?

To prove defamation in Indiana, you need to show that there was a communication with defamatory content, malice, publication, and resulting damages.

What proof do you need for defamation of character?

To prove defamation of character, you need to show a false statement presented as fact, its communication to a third party, fault amounting to at least negligence, and damages to the reputation.

Is it worth suing for defamation?

Suing for defamation can help restore your reputation and obtain compensation for any damages caused by libel or slander.

What Cannot be considered defamation?

A statement can only be considered defamatory if the harmful effect is apparent on its face, without the need for additional information. Statements of pure opinion, which cannot be proven true or false, are not considered defamation.

Can you sue someone for slander in Indiana?

Yes, in Indiana, you can sue someone for slander if they make a false and malicious statement that causes harm to your reputation. Defamation in Indiana is defined as a false and malicious communication that causes damages by its publication.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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