Today, a reputation that has taken decades to build can be gone in an instant with a click of a mouse. This is especially true with the ability to re-post and electronically share with unlimited numbers. Not only is defamation damaging to an individual’s reputation, it can be even more damaging economically to a professional or business. When defamation occurs, it is imperative to act swiftly in order to rectify and mitigate the damage being done. Delay in responding can lead to the damage spreading further and, if a defamation victim waits too long, can even result in no remedy whatsoever if the statute of limitations within the time one must file suit has passed. Generally, in Ohio, the statute of limitations within which a defamation suit must be filed is 1 year from defamation.
Defamation can be broken down into libel which is a written falsehood and slander which is a spoken falsehood. And, each time defamatory matters are re-published or re-spoken further defamation occurs. Matters that are simply opinions are not defamation. Defamation involves matters of fact. Remedies include retraction of statements, acknowledgment of falsity and corrective statements, statutory correction by media, monetary damage settlement, and/or verdict by a jury. Insurance on a home or a business may provide coverage for a defamation claim.
Unless a privilege applies, damages and fault are presumed at law in Ohio if the defamation is undeniable and per se. In addition to this, damages may be awarded for damage to reputations, mental anguish, and stress subject to Ohio tort caps of $250,000 to $300,000. Finally, economic damages may be awarded past and future as well as attorney fees and punitive damage in cases of malice.
In Ohio, statements made in a legislative, judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings are often absolutely immune from suit if they are reasonably related to the issue at hand. These include statements made in deposition, in court, in front of a legislative panel, or as required by law. However, false accusation of a crime to a police officer is often not protected. Especially, if the false statement to the police officer triggers an investigation of the crime charged. However, a false statement to police may be protected if the statutory law of Ohio mandates such reporting to the police.
In Ohio, statements made by private citizens to law enforcement may be covered by qualified privilege if the statements were made with the purpose of prevention or detection of a crime without actual malice. The statement must be made in good faith, there must be a valid interest to be upheld, the statement must be limited to this purpose, and it must be made at a proper occasion, in a proper manner and to proper parties only. A qualified privilege defense can be defeated by a showing of actual malice. Actual malice occurs when a false statement is made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard as to whether the statement is false. Reckless disregard exists when there is a high degree of awareness of probable falsity or in fact would cause a person to have serious doubts as the statements.
Defamation can be further broken down into per se and per quod. Defamation per se occurs when the subject material is defamatory on its face. Here the words import a charge of an indictable offense involving moral turpitude or infamous punishment, or injure a person in trade or occupation. Defamation per quod occurs when material is defamatory through interpretation or innuendo. This is also known as false light defamation in Ohio.
As you can see, defamation actions in Ohio are very complex. The status of the victim, the location where said, what was said, was it negligently or maliciously stated, does an absolute or qualified privilege apply, is the burden of proof of clear and convincing evidence met, what are the past and future economic and non-economical damage, what is the collectability of the defamers, what legal and subject matter venues and jurisdictions exist, and what are the risks versus the rewards of pursing these claims are all items that must be considered in pursing a defamation action by individuals and businesses.
If you or your business have been the victim of defamation, please contact Christian R. Patno as soon as possible to discuss your potential matter. Any delay in having a prompt discussion can result in a lost opportunity of remedying the damage that is present and often ongoing and a lawsuit if remediation is not a viable option.