Chicago Defamation Lawyer

Defamation LawyerHas someone been saying things about you that aren’t true? Has it damaged your reputation? When a person intentionally injures someone else, the victim can file a civil lawsuit to pursue compensation for the injuries they have suffered. Defamation is part of a class of intentional torts for which the perpetrator may face civil charges. It involves injury to the victim’s reputation or character.

If you have suffered a damaged reputation due to defamation, you may be wondering where to seek help. Turn to the experienced attorneys at Wallace Miller. Get your free consultation today by calling us at (312) 261-6193.

Introduction to Defamation

Defamation refers to statements that cause harm to another person’s reputation. In the past, it could take the form of libel, which is a written statement, or slander, which is a spoken one. The laws regarding defamation are established by state common law and statutory law, which may differ from state to state. In Illinois, defamation applies to a false statement of fact about the plaintiff published or shared with someone else, ultimately damaging their reputation. The distinction between libel and slander is no longer important in Illinois.

Defamation is a complex area of the law. When someone makes a defamatory statement, it’s often difficult to distinguish between opinion and fact. Additionally, the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and freedom of the press can create challenges in defamation cases.

Elements of Defamation

There are four main elements to proving that a statement qualifies as defamation. An attorney must prove the following elements to support a claim of defamation:

  • Defendant Made a False Statement – The defendant’s statement about the plaintiff must be untrue. The plaintiff must prove it is a falsehood for it to qualify as defamation.
  • Statement Must be Published – In Illinois, the defaming statement must have been published somewhere, meaning it was publicly disseminated or shared with another person.
  • Defendant’s Intent – The defendant’s statement must at least be negligent, if not intentional. Negligence means not acting with the reasonable care that another person in the same position would.
  • Statement Caused Damage – The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s statement directly caused harm to them. For example, they may show evidence of the damage to their reputation by showing negative social media posts about themselves. The statement must directly cause the damage.

Defamation Per Se and Defamation Per Quod

While the distinction between libel and slander has gone by the wayside, there are two types of defamation in Illinois to be aware of.

Defamation per se refers to defamatory statements that are, by their nature, defamatory. Statements that are not defamatory per se need to be proven defamatory. Statements a defendant can make that qualify as defamation per se include:

  • Accusing the plaintiff of a crime (without intent to harm)
  • Telling others that the plaintiff has a communicable disease
  • Stating that the plaintiff can’t do their job or lacks integrity in their work
  • Other statements that could harm the plaintiff’s career
  • Accusing the plaintiff of adultery or fornication

If statements do not meet the category of defamation per se, you must prove them as defamation per quod. For these types of statements, the plaintiff must show evidence proving the statement harmed them in order to be successful in their case. This is referred to as proving specific harm.

Intent in Defamation

The standard of proof used for plaintiffs varies based on their status as private or public figures. If the plaintiff is a private individual, they must prove that the defendant was negligent. On the other hand, if the plaintiff is a public figure or official, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted with actual malice.

Defenses to Defamation

Defamation law bookThere are several defenses a defendant can use if facing a defamation lawsuit. Defense to defamation include:

  • Truth – In a defamation case, it is up to the plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s statements were untrue. If the defendant can show that their statements were factual, the plaintiff may be unable to recover damages in a lawsuit. This applies to substantially true statements. “Substantially true” mean that the gist of the statement is true, even if all the details are not correct.
  • Privilege – There is a legal concept known as privilege which allows for certain statements to be protected by the law. For example, if the defendant makes statements about the plaintiff with the belief that they are reporting or preventing the plaintiff’s criminal activity, the statements may be privileged. They would then not qualify as defamatory.
    • Litigation privilege, or Absolute Privilege Statements the defendant makes leading up to trial or during litigation are protected. The reasoning is that parties to litigation must be free to state their cases without fear of repercussions. The defendant may repeat their defamatory statement as long as doing so is relevant to the case.
    • Qualified Privilege – This privilege usually applies when the defendant makes a defamatory statement based on a belief that they should report a crime. For instance, teachers must report suspected abuse of children to the state. The defendant may also report a crime because they believe it is a public safety threat. This defense can apply even if it turns out there was no crime. The defendant made their statement without intent to harm or negligence. They were reporting a crime because they believe it was necessary.
  • Innocent Construction – Sometimes, the court may determine that a statement that fits into a defamation per se category still doesn’t amount to defamation. If the statement could be regarded innocently by someone who hears it, it may not qualify as defamation.
  • Opinion – The distinction between fact and opinion is an important one in a defamation case. In the United States, people have freedom of speech protection under the First Amendment to the Constitution. They are free to state their opinions unless their statements meet a First Amendment exception (such as inciting violence). A defamatory statement is one in which the speaker makes a statement they put forward as fact. Those who hear or read the statement interpret the speaker’s statement as factually true. A true statement of opinion won’t qualify as defamation. However, it is difficult to draw the line between fact and opinion. A jury may decide that the defendant’s opinion still qualifies as defamation.
  • Public and Private Figures – In a defamation case, it matters whether the statement’s target is a public or private figure. There is less protection for public figures. Essentially, by becoming a public figure, people make themselves the subject of public interest. People discuss them. Public figures also have more access to the press and carry other privileges as a figure of public interest. It may require a stronger case to show defamation against a public figure than a private one.
  • Matters of Public Concern – In addition to recognizing that public figures will be the topic of more discussion, courts also recognize that issues of public concern will provoke discussion. There is a public interest in allowing citizens to freely discuss issues of concern without worrying about censoring their speech.

Statute of Limitations for Illinois Defamation Cases

The statute of limitations provides a timeframe in which the plaintiff must bring their defamation lawsuit. In Illinois, they have one year to do so from when defamation first occurred. Repeated defamatory statements won’t reset the timeframe for bringing a lawsuit. If the plaintiff does not bring their claim within one year, they will likely be unable to pursue compensation for the damage to their reputation.

Remedies for Defamation

Two main remedies for defamation exist for those who have suffered reputational harm: damages and an injunction. Let’s go over their specifics and how a defamation attorney could help.


When awarding damages (compensation), the court will often look at how serious the defamation’s effects have been and how widely this defamatory information has been published.

  • Nominal damages – The court may award the plaintiff nominal damages if the defamatory statement qualifies as defamation per se but is not particularly damaging.
  • Presumed damages – Also awarded in defamation per se cases, these compensate for things like embarrassment, damage to reputation, and mental suffering. The plaintiff must prove harm to receive these, even though the defamation is per se.
  • Punitive damages – This type of damages is not awarded as often. The jury may award punitive damages if the plaintiff shows that the defendant made their defamatory statement with actual malice.


Occasionally, a court will grant an injunction to stop a publisher from further publishing or spreading defaming information. This can happen either pending trial or after a trial to prevent further defamation. As you might expect, courts will only grant an injunction when the plaintiff can show that extenuating circumstances call for an injunction. A court will usually stop at awarding damages.

Wallace Miller Can Help You Seek Relief for Defamation

If you’ve suffered reputational damage because someone has made defamatory statements about you, the defamation attorneys at Wallace Miller are here to help. You can get started with your free consultation today by calling us at (312) 261-6193.

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