Note: This page covers information specific to Illinois. For general information concerning defamation, see the Defamation Law section of this guide.
Elements of Defamation
Under Illinois law, the elements of a defamation claim are:
- the defendant made a false statement about the plaintiff;
- there was an unprivileged publication to a third party;
- fault by the defendant amounting to at least negligence; and
- the publication damaged the plaintiff.
The elements of a defamation claim in Illinois are for the most part similar to the elements listed in the general Defamation Law section, with the following exceptions:
Defamation Per Se
Illinois recognizes that certain statements constitute defamation per se. These statements are so egregious that they will always be considered defamatory and are assumed to harm the plaintiff's reputation, without further need to prove that harm. In Illinois, a statement that does any of the following things amounts to defamation per se:
- accuses the plaintiff of committing a crime;
- indicates that the plaintiff is infected with a loathsome communicable disease;
- indicates that the plaintiff is unable to perform or lacks integrity in performing his or her employment duties;
- attributes to the plaintiff a lack of ability or otherwise harms the plaintiff in his or her profession; or
- accuses the plaintiff of engaging in adultery or fornication.
Solaia Tech., LLC v. Specialty Pub'g Co., 852 N.E.2d 825, 839 (Ill. 2006).
Actual Malice and Negligence
Illinois courts apply a unique "reasonable grounds" standard of negligence in defamation cases brought by private figures. This standard requires that the defendant either knew the publication was false or believed the publication was true but "lacked reasonable grounds for that belief." Troman v. Wood, 62 Ill.2d 1984, 299 (Ill. 1975). Thus, the Illinois negligence test resembles a slightly more lenient "actual malice" test. See the general page on actual malice and negligence for details on the terminology and standards referenced here.
Privileges and Defenses
Illinois courts recognize a number of privileges and defenses in the context of defamation actions, including the fair report privilege, substantial truth, and the opinion and fair comment privileges. Illinois has neither recognized nor rejected the wire service defense and the neutral reportage privilege.
There also is an important provision under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that may protect you if a third party – not you or your employee or someone acting under your direction – posts something on your blog or website that is defamatory. We cover this protection in more detail in the section on Publishing the Statements and Content of Others.
Most of the privileges and defenses to defamation can be defeated if the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with actual malice. The fair report privilege is the exception to this rule; it cannot be defeated by a showing of actual malice. See Solaia Tech., LLC v. Specialty Pub'g Co., 852 N.E.2d 825 (Ill. 2006).
Fair Report Privilege
In Illinois, the fair report privilege covers reports of official government proceedings and information contained in public records. This includes court proceedings and matters contained in court documents, as well as police reports, verbal statements by governmental officials in their official capacities, and things like marriage and divorce records, birth and death records, and property records. The privilege protects you if your report fairly and accurately reflects the official information. As noted, the privilege is absolute, and cannot be defeated by a finding of malice or actual malice.
Neutral Reportage Privilege
The Supreme Court of Illinois has not recognized or rejected the neutral reportage privilege. Lower courts in Illinois do not agree on whether Illinois law recognizes the privilege. Therefore, its status remains uncertain.
Wire Service Defense
Illinois has only addressed the wire service defense in one case, Kapetanovic v. Stephen J. Productions, Inc., 30 Media L. Rep. 1786 (N.D.Ill. 2002), but that case is not binding legal authority because it involved a federal court. It is worth noting, however, that the Illinois federal court recognized and applied the defense in that case and Illinois state courts may decide to follow suit.
Statute of Limitations for Defamation
The CMLP could not locate any cases in Illinois that apply the single publication rule in the context of a statement published on the Internet. If you are aware of any Illinois cases that acknowledge the single publication rule in the Internet context, please notify us.