Libel and Slander in Arizona
Libel and slander in Arizona are referred to as defamation. In Arizona, the law provides for monetary remedies if you are the target of defamation. Many people in our society are careless about destroying the reputation of individuals through lies and do not realize they are likely to find themselves in court and later writing a check to those they defame. There are limits to our freedom of speech in Arizona, as well as nationwide and they are necessary to protect the reputation of citizens.
ELEMENTS OF DEFAMATION
When discussing the law lawyers often refer to “elements.” Elements in the defamation setting are the combination of items necessary to prove a defamation case. In Arizona, defamation requires a false statement, oral or written, communicated to a third person that brings another into disrepute, contempt or ridicule or impeaches the person’s honesty, integrity, virtue or reputation. The statement must be of and concerning the plaintiff. A plaintiff must prove the statement relates to them as often times the person engaging in the libel or slander in Arizona may not specifically name the target of the libel or slander. Importantly, there must also be fault amounting to at least negligence on the part of the publisher depending upon the status of the plaintiff as a private or public figure.
PLAINTIFF’S STATUS – PRIVATE OR PUBLIC FIGURE
In Arizona, the level of fault necessary in a defamation case is based on the status of the plaintiff and whether the content of the speech involves an issue of public concern. A public official suing because of libel must prove actual malice to prevail. Actual malice requires proof the statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard as to whether it was false or not.
In Arizona, a person may be liable to a private figure concerning speech of private concern where the speaker (1) knows the statement is false and it defames the plaintiff, (2) acts in reckless disregard concerning the truth of the statement, or (3) acts negligently in failing to ascertain the veracity or falsity of the statement. Maters of public concern are treated differently under the law in regard to private figures. Further distinctions exist in Arizona for public figures.
When absolute privilege is applicable under Arizona law there is no liability on the part of a person making and publishing a statement. Incidentally, publication can be done by simply making a statement. It does not require an individual to “publish” in writing. Absolute privilege applies to (1) statements made in the context of judicial proceedings, judicial pleadings, legislative proceedings and administrative and executive functions of government, (2) statements by a public official in the course of performing official duties, (3) statements by witnesses at judicial proceedings, (4) statements made in complaints to the State Bar of Arizona, (5) statements made to the board of legal document preparers, (6) statements by witnesses in arbitration proceedings and (7) truth or substantial truth.
Claimants may recover out-of-pocket losses, impairment of reputation in the community, personal humiliation and mental anguish and suffering. Actual damages are also an available remedy. Private figure plaintiffs defamed over matters of private concern may even recover punitive damages as long as they can prove negligence.
C. Ray Lundberg is licensed to practice law in Arizona and Illinois. Please call me at Mohave Law if you are the victim of libel or slander. Mohave Law’s phone number is 928-263-2026.