libel per se

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Libel per se is a defamatory statement that is actionable in itself. To constitute libel per se, the words themselves must be damaging to the affected person. As a result, words that can reasonably be interpreted as having another meaning do not constitute libel per se. Whether words of a publication are libelous per se is a question of law for the court. In making this determination, courts, like the Ohio Supreme Court, have stated that language that itself brings one's character into ridicule or contempt, or injuriously affected his trade or profession constitute libel per se. 

New York courts have articulated the standard that determines whether the tenor of the language "would naturally import a criminal or disgraceful charge in the mind of an intelligent man." 

Examples of libel per se include statements that falsely claim that a person committed a crime of moral turpitude and claims that a person suffers from a “loathsome disease.” Unlike in a traditional action for libel, in an action libel per se, malice is presumed, and damages may be recovered without the plaintiff needing to plead or proving special damages (libel that requires a showing of damages are sometimes referred to as "libel per quod"). However, such claims are subject to the defense that the material, when read in context, would be perceived by a reasonable person to be nothing more than a matter of personal opinion. For example, in an action against a consumer who posted negative reviews on his website about a warranty provider, the court held that such reviews were of personal opinion and therefore were not actionable as libel per se. 

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team