What is Defamation Law in Missouri?

There are a lot of categories of personal injury cases, but one we often don’t think about grouping into this category is defamation. In reality, defamation can be included as part of personal injury. 

Each state has its own personal injury laws, including those that dictate what’s considered a defamation case. 

Below, we talk more specifically about defamation and personal injury cases in Missouri

What is Defamation?

In the broadest sense, outside of Missouri law, in particular, defamation is a false statement that’s presented as a fact. In the presentation of that false statement, there’s injury or damage to the character of the person who it’s spoken about. This element of injury or damage is why we consider these cases personal injury. 

For example, if someone says that you stole from your employer, then it can mean you get fired from your job, or you can’t get work. The person who made the false statement about you that damages your reputation could be a defendant in a lawsuit you bring against them. 

The concept of defamation of character occurs when something is presented as a fact, but if someone makes the statement only to you, as the person it’s about, it’s not defamation because there’s no damage occurring. 

There’s a legal differentiation between someone stating their opinion and defamation. 

If you say you think someone is annoying, for example, that’s not a statement that can be proven true or false. Saying you think someone stole something can still be an opinion but also creates the implication that a crime was committed, meaning if the statement is, in fact, not true, it’s defaming the person it’s spoken about. 

A statement has to have been made with the knowledge it wasn’t true or with a reckless disregard for the actual truth to meet the standard of defamation. If you’re a private citizen rather than a public figure or celebrity, proving defamation can also occur if the statement was made with negligence as far as determining its truthfulness. For example, the person who said it should have questioned it or known it was false. 

When you’re a private citizen, proving defamation is legally easier. 

In some states, there are particular laws making certain statements automatically defamatory. 

What About Slander and Libel?

We can categorize libel and slander as types of defamation

Libel is a defamatory statement that’s not true and is made in writing. Slander is an untrue, defamatory statement spoken out loud. 

The difference between slander and defamation is that slander can be made in any medium. Slander can occur in a speech, on TV, or it could be written in a blog, for example. Libel is only when something is stated in writing. 

Damages

If you’re suing for defamation, slander, or libel, you bring a civil lawsuit in state court. You’re alleging in doing so that under the laws of your state regarding slander or libel, you were damaged by the behavior of the person making the false statement. 

You’re seeking monetary damages in these cases for the damages you sustained because of the statement. This can include compensation for damages like pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of your ability to earn a living, damage to your reputation, and emotional damages such as humiliation and shame. 

Standards for Defamation in Missouri

While above we’ve talked about general slander laws, below are some of the things that are particular to Missouri. 

  • Missouri libel laws which are written definitions, have standards that are particular to publication.
  • In Missouri, if you make a false accusation about someone to their face, it’s not considered defamation. 
  • A statement isn’t actionable if, at any point, a would-be plaintiff consented to the broadcast or publication made by the defendant. 
  • A defamatory statement has to be false. Something that’s true and harmful isn’t actionable, although plaintiffs might have the ability to pursue a claim known as public disclosure of private facts. 
  • Under defamation law in Missouri, it’s the responsibility of the plaintiff to show a defendant made a false statement of fact that’s substantial, meaning the plaintiff takes on the burden of proof. 
  • The state case law requires defamation to be precise and demonstrably false. If a statement is seen as too vague, it might not meet the standard. 
  • A statement that’s offensive but not damaging isn’t covered in Missouri. 
  • In some jurisdictions, there are certain statements considered inherently harmful, which is known as defamation per se. In a per se case, a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove how a statement harmed them because it’s seen as being understood. Per se defamation might include making allegations of a serious disease or claims about someone professionally. However, Missouri doesn’t follow defamation per se laws. You would still have to support your claims with proof of damages. 
  • Another relevant term is the degree of fault. If someone accidentally makes a statement that’s defamatory, they can also be sued in certain situations. For example, if it’s a statement about someone in the public eye, then it has to have been broadcast or published with actual malice. For a private person, the plaintiff just has to show negligence in the actions of the defendant. 

Statute of Limitations

With personal injury cases, there’s the statute of limitations to be mindful of. Statute of limitations are time limits to when you can file a lawsuit, with every state having its own limitation period. In most states, it’s from one to six years after the injury or damage. 

In Missouri, the general statute of limitations is typically five years from the date of the injury, but there are variations depending on the type of case. 

For a medical malpractice case, it’s two years from the date of the negligence. For wrongful death, it’s three years from the date of the negligence. 

In Missouri, for a defamation case, you have up to two years to file a lawsuit. The longest timeframe for civil suits is ten years, and this is for cases of rent or debt collection, judgment, and fraud. 

Featured photo by designer491 at iStock by Getty Images

Contributed posts are advertisements written by third parties who have paid Woman Around Town for publication