Note: This page covers information specific to Virginia. For general information concerning defamation, see the general Defamation Law section of this guide.
Elements of Defamation
In Virginia, the elements of a defamation claim are
an actionable statement with
the requisite fault on the part of the defendant.
To be “actionable,” the statement must be a false statement of fact that harms the plaintiff's reputation in the community or deters other persons from associating with him or her. These elements of a defamation claim in Virginia are similar to the elements discussed in the general Defamation Law section, with the following exceptions:
Defamation Per Se
Virginia 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 Virginia, a statement that does any of the following things amounts to defamation per se:
attributes to the plaintiff the commission of some criminal offense involving moral turpitude, for which the party, if the charge is true, may be indicted and punished;
indicates that the plaintiff is infected with a contagious disease;
attributes to the plaintiff unfitness to perform the duties of an office or employment of profit, or lack of integrity in the discharge of the duties of such an office or employment; or
hurts the plaintiff in his or her profession or trade.
Fleming v. Moore, 221 Va. 884, 899 (1981).
Public and Private Figures