California Jury Instructions For Defamation Cases

Defamation, Online Defamation, Libel (Written Defamation) and Slander (Spoken Defamation)

Defamation attorneys prefer to look at jury instructions to understand the law. This is particularly advantageous for understanding defamation law, including the rules for libel and slander.

The jury instructions below are selected from the standard jury instructions given by judges in the Superior Court of California for defamation cases, including online defamation, libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation). The selected jury instructions for defamation below reflect some of the complexities of defamation cases. Of particular concern is whether the plaintiff is considered a public figure, a limited public figure, or a private person.

An obvious example of a public figure is a politician or a well-known celebrity. A limited public figure is someone who thrusts himself or herself into a newsworthy matter. A private person is simply a person who is not a public figure or a limited public figure.

A plaintiff who is considered a public figure or a limited public figure must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant knew the statements were false, or had serious doubts about the truth of the statements, in order to prevail on a claim for defamation (which includes claims for libel or slander). In contrast, a plaintiff who is considered a private person need only prove negligence, that is that the defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statements. Thus, it is easier for a private person to prove negligence than it is for a public figure to prove knowledge of falsity or serious doubts about the truth of statements by clear and convincing evidence.

Another significant part of the law regarding defamation is the burden of proof for proving the falsity or truth of a statement. For public figures, the plaintiff must prove that the statements were false. Also, for a private figure on a matter of public concern, the plaintiff still must prove that the statements were false. However, for a private figure on a matter of private concern, the plaintiff need only prove that the defendant failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statements (a negligent standard).

Another significant defense is privilege. One privilege is for statements made in litigation or in direct connection to the litigation process, in both criminal and civil cases. Another privilege is for communications between interested persons, such as a communication between one manager and another about an employee. A plaintiff must prove that communications between interested persons are made with malice in order to prevail on a claim of defamation.

Civil Code §47 contains the privileges for defamatory publications. A copy of Civil Code §47 is set forth below. The application of privilege is a complex area of the law of defamation and you should consult an attorney if you believe there is an issue of privilege in your case.

As a part of our legal services, we give initial consultations without obligation. If you have questions about defamation, public figures, or privileges, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Important Jury Instructions for a Defamation Case

After a plaintiff and defendant complete the presentation of evidence at a jury trial, the judge will read jury instructions to the jury that are specific to the type of case. The jury instructions explain the law. The judge instructs the jury to follow the instructions during the jury’s deliberations. The jury instructions provide the rules that the jury must apply to the facts presented by the parties.

The jury instructions in California generally come from the civil jury instructions produced by the Judicial Council of California (“CACI”).

See The California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) – Series 1700

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