Media Law Handbook



14. Where can you be sued?
12. What is the statute of limitations?

13. What types of damages are available to libel plaintiffs?

Under North Carolina law, there are two types of damages available to successful libel plaintiffs:  actual or compensatory damages, designed to repay the plaintiff for the harm he or she suffered; and punitive damages, designed to punish the defamer and serve as a deterrent.  According to the N.C. Supreme Court, actual or compensatory damages “include (1) pecuniary loss, direct or indirect, i.e., special damages; (2) damages for physical pain and inconvenience; (3) damages for mental suffering; and (4) damages for injury to reputation.”[193]

Both the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina law impose certain restrictions on damage awards.  Under the First Amendment, a public official or public figure who sues for libel cannot win, and therefore cannot collect any damages, unless he or she proves actual malice.  A private person plaintiff need prove only negligence to collect actual damages but must prove actual malice for punitive damages if the subject of the defamatory report was a matter of public interest.[194]

As discussed above, under North Carolina law, punitive damages are prohibited if a proper retraction was published or broadcast.  Plaintiffs claiming libel per quod must plead and prove special damages, as must plaintiffs in trade libel or product disparagement suits.


[193] Osborn v. Leach, 135 N.C. at 632.

[194] Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U.S. 749, 761 (1985).

14. Where can you be sued?
12. What is the statute of limitations?

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