The state of Wisconsin defines defamation of character as false statements that expose another individual to contempt, hatred, ridicule, degradation or disgrace, or cause injury to the individual's occupation or business. Defamation of character is classified as slander or libel. Wisconsin laws provide for criminal penalties and civil actions against defendants in defamation cases, however there is a statute of limitations for filing both.
In Wisconsin, slander is defined as the act of making false statements that cause injury to a person's reputation. Slander occurs when the false statements are spoken to two or more individuals -- not including the injured person -- and cause harm to the injured person's personal or professional reputation. Slander can include statements relating to the individual's morals, character, or business or financial practices. Under Wisconsin Statute 893.57, the period in which to file a claim for slander is three years.
Wisconsin defines libel as the act of publishing material that is defamatory either indirectly or on its face. The defamatory statement must be about someone who is identifiable to one or more individuals and the defamatory material must be distributed to at least one individual other than the offended party. Forms of libel include print, writing, signs or pictures intended to expose an individual to public ridicule, contempt or hatred. The statute of limitations for filing a libel claim is three years, as outlined by Wisconsin Statute 893.57.
According to Wisconsin Statute 942.01, defamation is a class A misdemeanor. This law is not applicable if statements were true, communicated with good motives and the means justified the end. In the case of slander, conviction requires the testimony of at least two other individuals who say they both heard and understood the statement as defamatory. The statute of limitations for filing a criminal defamation complaint is three years.
The discovery rule can be used to extend the statute of limitations for defamation if it was not reasonably possible for the individual to discover the defamation when it occurred. The discovery rule permits the claim to be filed, but whether it proceeds to court is at the judge's discretion. In cases where the injury was not discovered within the three-year statute of limitations, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as the defamation was discovered.
If the injured party is unable to file a claim within the statute of limitations, a judge can extend the period using tolling. An extension may be granted if the injured party was in the active duty military stationed overseas or was seriously ill, hospitalized or incompetent during the statute of limitations.
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