Not every false statement, even ones that seem very egregious on their face, can be the basis of a defamation claim. As a recent decision involving media coverage of a political candidate illustrates, when the statements at issue do not fall into one of the per se defamatory categories under Illinois law, the lack of special damages can be fatal to a defamation suit.
In Illinois, there are five categories of statements that are considered defamatory per se and damages are presumed. Those categories are (1) words that impute a person has committed a crime; (2) words that impute a person is infected with a loathsome communicable disease; (3) words that impute a person is unable to perform or lacks integrity in performing her or his employment duties; (4) words that impute a person lacks ability or otherwise prejudices that person in her or his profession; and (5) words that impute a person has engaged in adultery or fornication. See, SOLAIA TECHNOLOGY LLC v. SPECIALTY PUBLISHING COMPANY. If the alleged defamatory statement does not fall into one of these categories, the Plaintiff still may be able to sue under the doctrine of libel per quod, but in that case, special damages must be proved.
In Hardiman v/ Aslam, 2019 IL App (1st) 173196, the First District Appellate court in Cook County recently held that broadcast media's storyline that a political candidate "was a former gang member" even though provably false was not a basis for a defamation claim because it did not fit within the recognized categories of libel per se and because the candidate's alleged loss of fees from speaking engagements, alleged loss of votes, or loss of monetary contributions to plaintiff's political campaign fund, money to which the court ruled the candidate had no individual right and which he was prohibited from receiving personally-were not special damages incurred by an individual plaintiff that are required in an action for defamation per quod.
Learn More About Defenses to Libel and Slander: Contact Cooper, Storm & Piscopo
If you've been sued for slander or libel, or have questions about possible defenses to such charges, we can assist. Our knowledge of the law can help you cut through the he-said/she-said of a libel or slander case and help you protect your rights.