Defamation of Character Laws in Michigan |

Defamation of Character Laws in Michigan



Christopher Herhalt

Christopher Herhalt has been writing for print and web since 2008. He has been published in “The Charlatan” newspaper of Ottawa and “The Tehran Times” of Tehran, Iran. Herhalt received the Carleton University School of Journalism’s K. Phyllis Wilson Award for excellence after his first year of study. He is enrolled in the Honors Bachelor of Journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

By Christopher Herhalt, eHow Contributor

updated: May 05, 2010

    •” href=”×800.jpg” type=”modal”> Publishers are not fully responsible for defamatory articles published from a newswire service according to Michigan law. evening news image by Janusz Słyk from

      The conditions surrounding defamation claims in Michigan are similar to those in most states, with three very notable exceptions. To be considered defamatory under Michigan law, a written statement must be false, it must be published to a third party without the plaintiff’s consent, it must show negligence in factual accuracy and it must be harmful to the plaintiff or be able to lead to harm through the suggestion of harmful acts.

    Unique Elements: Defamation Per Se

    • Michigan defamation law includes a provision for defamatory statements that are “false and imputes a criminal offense or lack of chastity.” This special type of defamation is called “defamation per se” by Michigan law. Unlike similar provisions in other states, the Michigan “per se” section does not extend to those who claim their professional reputation or business have been defamed.

    Who is a Public Figure or Official?

    • Michigan defamation law has a very specific definition for public figures and officials. It says that anyone whose job merits special scrutiny above and beyond the scrutiny expected of regular civil servants is a public official. A public figure is anyone who “by his accomplishments, fame or mode of living, or by adopting a calling” gives the public a valid interest in their activities. Members of the law enforcement community, prosecutors, municipal politicians, education trustees, city councilors and “prominent businessmen” have all been considered public officials or figures in Michigan defamation cases.

    What is a Limited-Purpose Public Figure?

    • Michigan defamation law has special provisions for what is called a “limited-purpose public figure.” This provision protects people who have been drawn into public scandals without their intention. An example is the spouse of an elected official who under this provision, becomes a public figure when information regarding marriage becomes part of a public discussion. The provision allows people drawn into to public scandals to be considered public figures if a related defamation case should arise. The complainant must then prove malice on the part of the defendant as a result.


    • “Fair and true” reports about public proceedings are afforded “absolute privilege” and thus not liable in defamation cases. Reports that can be proven to be “substantially” true are also not liable for damages in defamation suits. News organizations are also not liable if the content of a story purchased from a wire service is defamatory, though they should not publish it if it is known to be false.

    Changes in Awards for Damages

    • Recent changes have halted the awarding of damages for “hurt feelings” in Michigan defamation cases. As of 2007, plaintiffs can only win damages for the economic loss incurred by defamation. This includes lawyer’s fees. There is a statute of limitations of one year on Michigan defamation suits.

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