Iowa Defamation Laws Explained | Suing For Defamation In Iowa

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
July 22, 2020

In this article, we explain Iowa defamation laws, including libel and slander, and discuss suing for defamation in Iowa. We will answer the following questions:

  • What is defamation in Iowa?
  • What criteria have to be met for a statement to be considered defamation?
  • How is defamation handled for public versus private figures in Iowa?
  • How can defendants and news agencies defend against defamation lawsuits?
  • What is the difference between defamation per se and defamation per quod?

What is Defamation in Iowa?

Defamation in Iowa is considered any statement, written or oral, that can bring harm to a person’s reputation, incite hatred, or result in economic hardship for a business. Libel and slander are the two torts under Iowa defamation law; libel refers to written statements and slander refers to oral statements. Defamation laws in Iowa are meant to protect an Iowa resident’s rights to enjoy a reputation unmarred by false and defamatory attacks.

What Criteria Have To Be Met For a Statement To Be Considered Defamation?

When a plaintiff brings a cause of action against the defendant for statements made to a third party by the defendant, whether with actual malice of negligently, it is the plaintiff responsibility to prove the alleged defamatory statement meets the following criteria: 

  1. The defendant gave a statement to a third party, whether written or orally delivered;
  2. The statement is actually defamatory;
  3. The statement is false;
  4. The statement concerns the plaintiff and is not ambiguous or referring to someone else;
  5. Caused material harm, injury, and/or damages to the plaintiff;
  6. The statement was made negligently or with malice; and
  7. Was within the 2-year Iowa defamation statute of limitations

How is Defamation Handled for Public Versus Private Figures in Iowa?

Concerning defamation, the law considered government officials (current or retired) and celebrities (newly established or longstanding) public individuals. Most defamation claims brought by a public figure include stories posted or reported on by the media. Public figures in Iowa have a harder time litigating defamation cases because they must prove the statement was made with actual malice, meaning the statement is false or mostly false and knowingly published by the media outlet with a reckless disregard for the truth.

How Can Individual and News Agencies Defend Against Defamation Lawsuits in Iowa?

Iowa law enables individuals to defend themselves against defamation lawsuits on the basis of truth. This means that if the defendant’s party can prove the alleged defamatory statement is true then the claim will likely be dismissed. Other defenses against defamation include:

  • Substantial Truth: Substantial truth is the argument that the statement made is mostly true or that the generality of the statement consists of the truth.
  • The Statement Was Opinion: An opinion can’t be proven true or false. An example includes, “Steve, is an ill-tempered jerk.” This statement cannot be proven true or false, so it’s not defamatory. “Steve steals cars in the middle of the night” can be proven and if false could be the basis for a defamation suit.
  • Qualified Privilege, Absolute Privilege, or Immunity: These defenses are usually reserved for those in public offices, between high-level political figures and under other political circumstances.

In Iowa, news outlets enjoy the fair reporting privilege, allowing them to retract a story within two weeks of it being published. If retracted the news outlet can still be on the hook for damages to the plaintiff, but they will likely be reduced. If the story is not retracted the news agency will be subject to the full degree of damages sought by the plaintiff.

What is the Difference Between Defamation Per Se and Defamation Per Quod?

Under Iowa law, two types of defamation exist, defamation per se and defamation per quod. Defamation per se consists of statements the law considers to be automatically damaging and for which damages need not be proven. In defamation per quod, the plaintiff must prove monetary damages resulting from the defendant’s alleged defamatory statement. 

The following types of statements generally qualify as defamation per se:

  • Statements accusing the plaintiff of a crime;
  • Asserting that the plaintiff has a “loathsome” communicable disease;
  • Asserting the plaintiff is unable to do their job or lacks integrity;
  • Statements that harm the plaintiff’s profession or employment;
  • Statements accusing the plaintiff of adultery or fornication
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