Summary of Important Aspects of the Law of Defamation, Slander and Libel in Illinois

Elements of the Cause of Action for Defamation, Slander and Libel

In Illinois the following are the element of a libel or defamation cause of action:

  1. the defendant made a false statement regarding the plaintiff;
  2. the statement was published to a third-party and it wasn’t done so in a privileged context or setting;
  3. the defendant with at least negligent in making the false statement (if the defendant was not a public figure);
  4. the publication caused the plaintiff to suffer damage.
What Constitutes Defamation Per Se?

Illinois law considers certain types of false statements to constitute defamation per se. These categories of statements are viewed as so harmful to a person’s or businesses’ reputation and so egregious that they are always to be defamatory and harmful to a plaintiff’s good name and reputation and therefore damages are presumed. The following types of statements give rise to claims for defamation per se:

  • Accusing the plaintiff of commission of a crime;
  • Claiming that the plaintiff is infected with a horrible communicable disease or illness;
  • Stating that the plaintiff cannot perform his or her job duties or lacks integrity to perform those duties;
  • Imputing to plaintiff a want of ability in his or her profession or otherwise harms the plaintiff in his or her profession;
  • Accusing the plaintiff of fornication, sexual promiscuity or adultery.
Actual Malice or Negligence

Illinois employees a somewhat unique negligence standard for in non-public figure defamation cases. This standard requires that even though the defendant believed the statement was true the defendant "lacked reasonable grounds for that belief." Troman v. Wood, 62 Ill.2d 1984, 299 (1975). Thus, the Illinois negligence test does not require “actual malice”.

Privileges and Defenses to Defamation

Illinois case law has allowed for certain privileges and defenses to defamation claims. These include the fair reporting privilege, substantial truth, opinion and fair comment and litigation privilege. Illinois courts, to our knowledge, have not adopted or rejected the wire has neither recognized nor rejected the wire service defense (based on reporting from a trusted news source) or the neutral reporting privilege (where you republish defamatory statements by a third-party but they were a trusted and reliable source)

There is also a clause under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that many protect a person from libel if a third-party not associated with you posts something on your website or blog that turns out to be defamatory.

Many of the privileges and defenses to defamation can be defeated if the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with actual malice. The litigation, legislative, reporting a crime to authorities, and fair reporting privileges, however, still provide protection even if a showing of actual malice could be made. See Solaia Tech., LLC v. Specialty Pub’g Co., 221 Ill2d 558 (2006).

Fair Report Privilege Defense to Defamation

In Illinois, the fair report privilege pertains applies to reporting official government proceedings and public record information. This privilege also covers court documents and proceeding, information in police reports and statements made to government officials acting in their official roles. It also covers police reports, marital dissolution, child support and other divorce documents as well as property records and birth and death certificates. The privilege provides protection from libel claims if you have reported in a fair and accurate matter what you have been told by a government official or the information contained in official records. This is an absolute privilege which findings of malice or actual malice cannot defeat.

Privilege of Neutral Reportage

The Illinois Supreme Court has not recognized whether truthfully reporting the statement of non-government person or entity (even if it is a trusted source) gives rise to a neutral reportage privilege. Appellate Courts in Illinois disagree as to whether this privilege is available.

Reportage of Wire Service Information Privilege

One Illinois federal case, Kapetanovic v. Stephen J. Productions, Inc., 2002 WL 475193 (N.D.Ill. 2002), but that case is not binding legal authority because it involved a federal court. However, Illinois courts may decide to follow this opinion.

In general, this privilege applies, if you:

  1. Republish information for a recognized and reputable news agency;
  2. Were unaware the information was false;
  3. Have no reason to doubt its truth from the information provided on the face of the report;
  4. Do not substantially alter the information you are reporting.
One Year Statute of Limitations for Libel Slander and Defamation Claims

The statute of limitations for defamation in Illinois is one (1) year. 735 ILCS 5/13-201. It states:

Defamation - Privacy. Actions for slander, libel or for publication of matter violating the right of privacy, shall be commenced within one year next after the cause of action accrued.

Illinois has adopted the single publication rule by statute (740 ILCS 165/1) so a plaintiff has one year from the date of publication (even if the publication continues to appear on the internet) to file suit unless the publication is concealed and then the discovery rule may apply.

Lubin Austermuehle, P.C.’s Chicago defamation lawyers have offices in Elmhurst, Wilmette and Chicago, Illinois. We have represented parties falsely accused of defamation and prosecuted claims by individuals and corporations facing vicious attacks on their businesses or professions through negative media campaigns or false reviews on websites such as Yelp and Google. You can view our record on prosecuting or defending libel defamation and slander claims here. To schedule a consultation with a member of our team of Chicago defamation libel or slander attorneys, contact us online, at 630-333-0333.

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