Defamation in Virginia
By: Matthew Crist – 12 February 2016
Defamation in Virginia is a bit more complicated than one may initially appreciate. Defamation is peculiar in Virginia law because it carries a limitations period of 1 year as opposed to other typical torts which have longer limitations periods. Whether the defamation is written (libel) or in person, time is of the essence to bring the action against the person making the statement.
What is defamation?
Defamation is a statement made to a third person which is false and injures your character. Written or verbal defamation carry the same basic analysis: The statement must be made regarding you, must be false, and must be made to someone other than you.
What if someone is acting anonymously on the internet?
There is a special provision in the Virginia Code that permits a defamation plaintiff to bring a lawsuit against an anonymous person to pause the 1 year time limit. It is a complicated process that should be handled by an attorney, however, the code accounts for the fact that people may post defamatory statements on the internet anonymously and in doing so can make it difficult to identify the proper defendant. The code permits for such a pause, but the pause is not indefinite. There is still a limitation on how long a plaintiff can pause the limitations period.
What are your damages?
Many defamation plaintiffs simply want to clear their name in their community. That is an important part of defamation law in Virginia. However, many times there are actual damages to a person’s trade, business, or profession from the false and injurious statements. Damages that stem from loss of business contracts or clientele can accrue significantly.
What you should do first.
It is important to capture the exact false and injurious statements made about you. If it is on the internet, take a screenshot or a picture of the statements as they existed when they were made. If it is verbal, the people who heard the statement will be witnesses. It is important to identify precisely what was said, the context in which it was said, and the persons who were present and heard the statements.