Each state has laws called "statutes of limitations," which set a time limit for filing different kinds of civil lawsuits. If you want to bring any kind of case in your state's civil court system, you'll need to understand and comply with the applicable statute of limitations filing deadline.
In the context of a defamation lawsuit, if the statute of limitations "window" closes before you get your case filed, you'll have lost your right to a civil remedy for your defamation-related harm, including injury to your reputation, financial losses, and other negative effects (called "damages" in the language of the law). So it's easy to see why it's crucial to pay attention to—and make sure you're in compliance with—these laws.
While the statute of limitations applies to lawsuits filed in court, it's important to have the relevant filing deadline in mind any time you think you might have a libel or slander claim. Maybe you're engaged in settlement talks with the party who defamed you, and you're pretty sure you're going to settle for a fair amount. There's still the chance that settlement negotiations will break down, and you always want to have the option of filing a defamation lawsuit in court (or at least make the credible threat to do so). If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost your leverage at the settlement table.
Check out the list below for the details on the defamation statute of limitations in your state. You'll see that the filing deadlines typically range from one to three years, with some states setting different time limits depending on the type of defamation (libel or slander) being claimed.
|State||Statute of Limitations|
|Arkansas||3 years (libel); 1 year (slander)|
|Washington, District of Columbia||1 year|
|New Hampshire||3 years|
|New Jersey||1 year|
|New Mexico||3 years|
|New York||1 year|
|North Carolina||1 year|
|North Dakota||2 year|
|Rhode Island||3 years (libel); 1 year (slander)|
|South Carolina||2 years|
|South Dakota||2 years|
|Tennessee||1 year (libel); 6 months (slander)|
|West Virginia||1 year|
If you've compared the details in the above chart with your own situation, and you think time might be running out on your right to file a libel or slander lawsuit under your state's rules, it might be worth it to talk to an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a lawyer can help with a defamation lawsuit. And if you're ready to reach out to a lawyer in your area now, you can use the connection features right on this page.