Articles Posted in Defamation, Libel and Slander

In Illinois, there are several defenses that can be utilized in response to a libel suit. One such defense is the doctrine of “innocent construction”, where a potentially defamatory statement is innocently construed, and therefore not actionable. Expressions of opinion are another type of defense, as they are not considered statements of fact and are therefore protected from defamation claims.

Another key defense to defamation in Illinois is the defense of truth. Under Illinois law, if the defendant can show the “substantial truth” of the alleged defamatory statement, this is considered a complete defense to defamation. The defendant need only show the truth of the “gist” or “sting” of the defamatory material.

Additionally, the establishment of a qualified privilege can also serve as a defense. If a qualified privilege is established, the communication becomes actionable only if the privilege was abused. The plaintiff must present evidence of a reckless act which shows disregard for the defamed party’s rights, such as failure to properly investigate the truth of the matter, limit the scope of the material, or send the material to only proper parties .

In some cases, the defendant can maintain a suit for defamation without proof of special damages only if the defamatory statement falls into one of four “per se” categories: commission of a crime; infection with a communicable disease leading to the infected person being shunned; malfeasance or misfeasance in the performance of office or job; and unfitness for their profession or trade.

Lastly, under Illinois statutory and constitutional provisions, when truth is published with good motives and for justifiable ends, it can be used as a defense to prosecution for criminal libel. However, both elements are necessary for the defense to prevail. Continue reading ›

Choosing Lubin Austermuehle to defend you in a libel case can be a strong option due to their extensive experience and strategic approach to defamation law. Here are some reasons based on their record and legal capabilities:

  1. Experienced Legal Team: Lubin Austermuehle has a dedicated team of attorneys with significant experience in defending and prosecuting defamation cases. This includes complex scenarios involving cyber defamation and First Amendment rights, ensuring that clients receive knowledgeable representation tailored to the nuances of each case​ (Chicago Business Litigation Lawyer Blog)​​ (Chicago Business Law Firm)​.
  2. Comprehensive Legal Strategies: They are well-versed in deploying a range of defamation defenses, such as the innocent construction rule, which can dismiss a complaint if the statements can be interpreted innocently, and understanding the nuances between statements of opinion and fact as they relate to defamation claims​ (Chicago Business Law Firm)​​ (Chicago Business Law Firm)​.

Under Illinois law, various defenses are recognized for libel actions. The first defense is the innocent construction doctrine. This doctrine posits that if a statement could be construed in a non-defamatory way, it cannot be considered defamatory.

Another defense is the expression of opinion. Statements of opinion, even if they are defamatory, do not result in a defamation claim if the statement cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating actual facts. The statement must have a precise and readily understood meaning, be verifiable, and its literary or social context should signal that it has factual content.

The defense of truth is also recognized. A defamatory statement can be defended if it is substantially true and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends. This is reflected in the Illinois Constitution which states: “In trials for libel, both civil and criminal, the truth, when published with good motives and for justifiable ends, shall be a sufficient defense”. It is enough to show that the publication is “substantially true”, or that the “gist”, the “sting”, or the “substantial truth” of the defamation can be justified.

The defense of ‘fair comment’ is another possible defense. In addition, there is a defense of privilege as a means for redressing grievances. Continue reading ›

In general, you can be sued for posting internet reviews, even if they are truthful and critical, but the likelihood of the lawsuit being successful depends on various factors. Here’s a breakdown of the legal considerations:

  1. Truth as a Defense: Truth is a key defense against defamation claims. In most jurisdictions, if the statements you made in your review are true or are your genuine opinion, it’s less likely that a defamation lawsuit against you would succeed.
  2. Opinion vs. Fact: Expressing an opinion is typically protected speech, but stating something as a fact that can be proven false could lead to legal issues. For example, saying “I think this restaurant has the worst service” is an opinion, whereas saying “this restaurant has health violations” when it does not, is stating a false fact.
  3. Public vs. Private Figures: Public figures, like celebrities and politicians, have a higher threshold to prove defamation. They must prove that the statement was made with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. Private individuals only need to prove that the statements were false and damaging.
  4. Context Matters: The context of your review can also be important. If the review is posted on a platform known for hyperbolic or humorous reviews, it might be taken less seriously than a review on a more formal platform.
  5. Local Laws: Defamation laws vary widely by country and even by state or province within countries. Some places have stricter laws about what constitutes defamation.
  6. Retractions and Apologies: In some cases, retracting a statement or issuing an apology can mitigate damages or even negate a defamation claim.
  7. SLAPP Lawsuits: Some lawsuits, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), are filed to intimidate or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of legal defense. Many jurisdictions have anti-SLAPP statutes that protect individuals from these kinds of lawsuits.
  8. Insurance: Many homeowners insurance policies or umbrella policies provide libel defense insurance. You should retain independent legal counsel to deal with your insurance carrier as the carrier’s have a conflict of interest since the policies exempt intentional misconduct which libel claims often encompass.

It’s always advisable to be thoughtful and factual in online reviews and to understand the potential legal implications of what you post online. If you are concerned about a specific situation, consulting with a legal professional is recommended. Continue reading ›

In the realm of defamation law, the distinction between public and private figures holds significant weight. Public figures have a higher burden of proof when pursuing defamation claims due to their assumed access to media platforms and the assumed public interest in their lives or opinions. However, what happens when someone becomes an involuntary public figure, particularly in the context of Illinois law?

In Illinois, as in many other jurisdictions, individuals may become involuntarily thrust into the public eye due to circumstances beyond their control. The legal concept of involuntary public figures was established in the famous case of involving a well known Illinois lawyer Elmer Gertz. This case sets out the framework for the doctrine: Justice Mikva in DC federal  appeals decision, Dameron v. Washington Magazine, Inc., 779 F.2d 736, 742 (D.C. Cir. 1985) provides a very good description of the doctrine:

By sheer bad luck, Dameron happened to be the controller on duty at the time of the Mt. Weather crash. As in Gertz, Dameron “assume[d a] special prominence in the resolution of [a] public question[ ].” Gertz at 351, 94 S.Ct. at 3012. He became embroiled, through no desire of his own, in the ensuing controversy over the causes of the accident. He thereby became well known to the public in this one very limited connection. The numerous press reports on the Mt. Weather crash introduced by the defendants in their motion for summary judgment amply demonstrate this. Dameron’s name and likeness were often used in these reports. See R.E. at 134–49 (reproducing articles from The Washington Post, The Star-News, UPI and the PATCO Newsletter). It was in that same very limited connection that The Washingtonian’s brief and oblique reference to him surfaced years later.
Paradoxically, the magazine article never mentions Dameron’s name or other identifying characteristics. If Dameron had not been previously linked with accounts of the tragedy, no magazine reader could tie the alleged defamation to Dameron. Indeed, it was partly because of the defendant’s public notoriety that he was identifiable at all from the oblique reference in The Washingtonian.
There is a marked contrast between the controlling facts of this case and the facts of Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448, 96 S.Ct. 958, 47 L.Ed.2d 154 (1976), a case Dameron claims shows that he was not a public figure. Indeed, Firestone butresses our conclusion that Dameron is a public figure for the limited purpose of discussion of the Mt. Weather crash. In Firestone the scion of a prominent family of industrialists was sued for divorce. The charges and countercharges in the suit were sensational and the press displayed a great deal of interest in the proceedings. The Court, however, declined to find Mrs. Firestone even a limited-purpose public figure merely because of her much-publicized divorce trial. The Court found that Mrs. Firestone’s resort to the judicial process to arrange her marital affairs was, for all practical purposes, involuntary and that the controversy, if any, over her marriage and divorce was a private one. Id. at 454–55, 96 S.Ct. at 965–66. The Court said that “even though the marital difficulties of extremely wealthy individuals may be of interest to some portions of the reading public” a divorce proceeding was not a public controversy. Id. at 454, 96 S.Ct. at 965. That is, public interest in a controversy does not make a public controversy. The newsworthiness of an event is not the measuring stick for identifying public controversy. Nor is a voyeuristic interest in someone’s private affairs an appropriate substitute. Dameron’s situation, however, is far removed from that of Mrs. Firestone. Dameron was at the center of a controversy involving the loss of many lives in a mishap involving a public carrier. At issue was the management of a program administered by the FAA, an arm of the government. Another governmental agency—the NTSB—conducted an extensive, public investigation into the events surrounding the Mt. Weather Crash. Dameron appeared at these hearings and testified for many hours about his role in the crash. The hearings, and Dameron’s role in them, were widely publicized. We think that, like it or not, Dameron was embroiled in a public controversy.

The Illinois courts or federal courts interpreting Illinois law, like other courts around the country, have recognized that some individuals, despite being private citizens, can become involuntarily involved in public controversies or discussions. In these situations, they may temporarily take on the role of a public figure for the limited context of that particular controversy. For instance, someone who becomes part of a widely covered news story or controversy, such as a victim of a high-profile crime or a witness to a significant event or a reputed mobster who has a high profile and been indicted but not convicted, might be considered an involuntary public figure for the duration or context of that particular issue.

However, meeting the criteria for involuntary public figure status is not a simple task. The courts evaluate various factors, such as the extent of media coverage, the person’s role in the events, and whether the individual has voluntarily sought public attention. Additionally, the Illinois courts consider whether the allegedly defamatory statements are related to the public controversy that led to the individual’s involuntary public figure status.

Despite being classified as an involuntary public figure, individuals in Illinois are not stripped of all protection against defamation. They still possess the right to seek legal recourse if defamatory statements are made about them. However, the burden of proof or the elements needed to be proved (i.e. wilful or intentional disregard of the truth) may be higher compared to that of a private individual due to the limited-purpose public figure status they’ve acquired.

It’s essential to understand that defamation law can be intricate, and each case is evaluated on its unique circumstances. If you believe you’ve been the subject of defamatory statements in Illinois, seeking legal counsel to assess your situation is crucial. Understanding the nuances of involuntary public figure status and how it pertains to defamation law can significantly impact the outcome of a case.

In conclusion, Illinois recognizes the concept of involuntary public figures and provides certain protections in defamation cases. The courts carefully analyze the circumstances surrounding an individual’s involvement in a public controversy to determine their status. If you find yourself in such a situation, consulting a legal professional who specializes in defamation law is advisable to navigate these complexities effectively.

You can read an interesting law review article on the topic here.

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In the digital age, where information spreads rapidly across various platforms, businesses are susceptible to reputational harm through false statements or misleading information. Business libel, a form of defamation, can significantly impact a company’s reputation, credibility, and ultimately, its bottom line. Understanding what constitutes business libel and how to protect your business is crucial in safeguarding its reputation.

What is Business Libel?

Business libel refers to false and damaging statements or representations made about a business, its products, services, or practices. This defamation can occur through various mediums such as online reviews, social media posts, articles, or spoken statements. These false statements can negatively impact the company’s brand image, customer trust, and even its relationships with stakeholders.

Elements of Business Libel:

For a statement to be considered libelous against a business, it typically must fulfill the following criteria:

  1. False Statement: The statement in question must be untrue or misleading.
  2. Publication: The false statement must be communicated to a third party, whether through written, spoken, or digital means.
  3. Harm: The false statement must have caused or have the potential to cause harm to the business’s reputation or financial standing.
  4. Negligence or Intent: In some cases, proving that the false statement was made either negligently or with malicious intent can strengthen a business’s libel claim.

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In today’s digital age, where information spreads at the speed of light and opinions are shared freely, libel, defamation, and internet slander have become increasingly common issues. When your reputation is at stake, it’s crucial to understand the complexities of libel law and the defenses available to protect your rights. This blog post aims to shed light on this intricate area of law and the importance of seeking expert legal counsel, exemplified by Lubin Austermuehle, a law firm with decades of experience in handling libel and defamation cases for a diverse range of clients.

The First Amendment: Balancing Rights and Responsibilities

At the heart of libel law in the United States lies the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects freedom of speech. This fundamental right, however, is not without limits. While individuals have the right to express their opinions, they are also responsible for the consequences of their words, particularly when they cause harm to someone’s reputation. Continue reading ›

In the dynamic landscape of condominium and homeowners’ associations (HOAs), board officers and directors are tasked with making crucial decisions to maintain the welfare of their communities. However, there are times when disputes arise, leading association members or condo owners to bring legal action against these leaders. At Lubin Austermuehle — the Business Litigators, we concentrate on defending condominium and HOA board officers and directors facing lawsuits under Illinois law. In this blog post, we will explore the unique legal challenges in Illinois and our legal team’s indispensable roles in safeguarding these community leaders.

Understanding Illinois Condo & HOA Governance

Illinois, like many states, has a comprehensive set of laws and regulations governing condominiums and homeowners’ associations. These laws define the roles and responsibilities of board officers and directors, as well as the rights and obligations of association members or condo owners. Compliance with these laws is essential to maintaining the harmony and functionality of these communities.

Common Legal Issues Faced by Board Officers and Directors in Illinois

Board officers and directors in Illinois can find themselves entangled in various legal disputes, including:

  1. Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Board members owe a fiduciary duty to the association members or condo owners. Allegations of mismanagement, conflicts of interest, or self-dealing can lead to claims of breaching this duty.
  2. Failure to Enforce Declarations and Bylaws: Ensuring the consistent enforcement of community rules and regulations is a crucial responsibility of board members. Failure to do so can result in legal actions by residents who believe their rights have been violated.
  3. Financial Mismanagement: Improper handling of association funds, budgetary issues, or a lack of transparency in financial matters can lead to allegations of financial mismanagement and legal consequences.
  4. Discrimination and Fair Housing Act Violations: Board officers must ensure that all residents are treated fairly and in compliance with fair housing laws. Allegations of discrimination can result in legal action under both state and federal laws.
  5. Contract Disputes: Board officers and directors often enter into contracts for services and maintenance. Disputes can arise if one party feels that the terms of the contract have not been fulfilled.

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In today’s digital era, online reviews wield substantial influence, helping consumers make informed decisions about products, services, and businesses. However, the power of user-generated reviews can sometimes lead to contentious situations, particularly when individuals or entities face accusations of internet libel due to their posted reviews. Understanding the defense mechanisms available to individuals posting online reviews is essential in safeguarding their rights while responsibly exercising their freedom of expression.

The Impact of Online Reviews:

Online reviews play a pivotal role in consumer decision-making. They offer insights, opinions, and firsthand experiences that influence potential customers’ perceptions. However, negative reviews can occasionally lead to accusations of libel if they’re perceived as defamatory or damaging to a business or individual. Continue reading ›

The First Amendment right to freedom of the press is fundamental to a democratic society, but it’s not absolute. Journalists and media organizations must strike a balance between reporting the news accurately and protecting individuals’ reputations. In Illinois, the fair reporting privilege defense serves as a crucial legal safeguard against libel claims when reporting on matters of public interest. In this blog post, we’ll explore the fair reporting privilege in Illinois, its significance, and how it applies to libel cases.

Understanding the Fair Reporting Privilege

The fair reporting privilege is a legal doctrine that protects journalists and media outlets from defamation claims when reporting on matters of public interest. It recognizes the importance of a free press in informing the public and encourages open and honest reporting. The privilege allows reporters to cover governmental proceedings, official statements, and public documents without fear of defamation liability, even if the information later proves to be incorrect.

Key Elements of the Fair Reporting Privilege in Illinois

To successfully assert the fair reporting privilege defense in Illinois, several key elements must be met:

  1. Public Interest: The report must involve a matter of public interest. This typically includes governmental actions, public meetings, official statements, and other topics that are of concern to the public.
  2. Accuracy: While the privilege protects reports that are substantially accurate, it does not cover intentionally false statements or reckless reporting. Journalists must still exercise reasonable care in verifying the information they report.
  3. Fair and Neutral Reporting: The report should be fair and neutral, presenting the facts without undue bias or distortion. Deliberate attempts to harm someone’s reputation with willful false statements will not be protected.

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