What is the Law of Seditious Libel in Delaware and what are the Punishments for it?
According to Delaware law, defamation is regarded as a false statement in written or verbal form, which is communicated to one of the 3rd parties. The aim and the outcome of defamation are to place the subject in an unfavorable light.
In order to qualify as “defamatory”, a statement has to be false in the state of Delaware. While published or written defamation is referred to as libel, oral, or spoken defamation is known as slander. It is also interesting to note that Delaware does not include a statute for criminal defamation. Rather, all claims for libel and slander are civil claims.
Elements needed to establish Defamation in Delaware
In Delaware, action or cause for slander or libel needs that the prosecution establishes the following:
- The communication being contested refers to the plaintiff;
- A false fact was communicated by the defendant through verbal broadcast or was published;
- The defendant acted with actual malice or negligently;
- The statement, which is being objected to causes reputational or material harm to the victim or plaintiff;
The state does not need a defamed individual to be identified or referred to by their names in a slanderous or libelous statement. The only requirement is that it should contain adequate data for any “Reasonable person” for understanding that the plaintiff was the target of such a statement.
An example of the above requirement is that a statement made against any 3rd person such as “A manager in a local supermarket is a thief” does not identify the individual adequately. However, a statement like “The day manager of the supermarket at 50, Red Cross Street is a thief” can be adequate. The main issue in defamation is whether the 3rd party is able to pinpoint the plaintiff from a statement.
Defamation Damages in Delaware
It has been mentioned earlier that the defamatory statement should damage the plaintiff to win. Defamation damages in Delaware fall into any of the 4 categories mentioned below:
- General compensation damages: These are general damages popping up from the actions of the defendants. For instance, damage to the reputation of a person can occur when the plaintiff is publicly and wrongly referred to as a thief.
- Nominal damages: When a jury or judge discovers that an incorrect statement of fact took place but there was no damage, they may award nominal damages to the plaintiff.
- Punitive damages: Punitive or exemplary damages can be awarded by the court where the defamation is malicious and intentional. Such damages are regarded as a punishment against the defendant.
- Special damages: These damages are aimed to provide compensation to the plaintiff and serve to award the out of pocket costs they had to incur because of the slander or libel.
Defamation per se
In Delaware, a statement is considered defamation per se, which can cause inherent damage to the community standing or reputation of a person. The state recognizes 4 kinds of statements to be qualified as defamatory per se:
- A statement that indicates a criminal offense of moral turpitude has been committed;
- A derogatory statement that intends to hurt an individual in their business or trade;
- Derogatory statements pertaining to the sexual activities; and
- Indicating that an individual is suffering from a repulsive disease.
In Delaware, there are certain exceptions to this. For example, the state makes it compulsory to report an incident of child abuse. When an individual does so and is wrong, he/she can be protected through privilege while no defamation claim can be made. However, to ensure that the privilege exists, such a statement should be communicated in good faith. In case an individual files a false report knowingly, there is no such privilege for him/her.