Defamation: An Overview of Slander and Libel in Ohio

Defamation, including libel and slander, is an area of law with large grey areas.  Having an understanding of the basic concepts can help you avoid being sued, as well as help you evaluate whether you might have a viable case.

Defamation includes both slander and libel.  Libel is written while slander is spoken.  With defamation, there is an underlying tension between the interests of protecting one's reputation against the interests of protecting free speech.  As a result, statements that are opinions and substantially true statements are not enough for defamation.  The law is also more permissive regarding statements against public persons.

For civil suits, a statement about a private individual may be defamation if (a) it is reported as fact to another person; (b) it is a false statement; (c) the statement caused damage; and (d) the person who made the statement was negligent.  A statement about a public person may be defamation if (a) through (c) above apply and the statement is made with malice.  Here, malice has been defined to mean that the speaker/writer made the statement with knowledge that that statement was false or with a reckless disregard for whether it was true.

Public persons include many individuals, from politicians to participants in labor disputes.  Dale v. Ohio Civ. Serv. Emp. Assn., 57 Ohio St. 3d 112, 567 N.E.2d 253 (1991).  In fact, public person may be broken down to include a public officials, public figures, and limited purpose public figures.  Talley v. WHIO TV-7, 131 Ohio App. 3d 164, 722 N.E.2d 103 (2d Dist 1998). 

A difficult issue with defamation can be showing damages from the statement.  If shown, the person may obtain money damages or an injunction as relief.  Additionally, there is the concept of per se defamation where damages are presumed.  This requires words that: "(a) import an indictable criminal offense involving moral turpitude or infamous punishment, (b) impute some loathsome or contagious disease that excludes one from society, or 3) tend to injure one in his trade or occupation."

There are nuances to this area of law, including standards of proof, defenses, and certain privileges.

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