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  1. Is truth the ultimate defense to a defamation lawsuit in the USA?

  2. Does a defamation defense vary between states?

  3. Even if the release of truthful information results in permanent career damage (i.e. loss of job, reputation, etc.) to someone, the truth would protect the author from a defamation lawsuit, correct?

  • This might be a duplicate, but it is easier to answer than the look for previous answer that might be duplicates. – ohwilleke Dec 9 '17 at 3:12
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Is truth the ultimate defense to a defamation lawsuit in the USA?

Truth is an absolute defense to defamation lawsuits in modern U.S. law (this was not always the case historically) as a matter of constitutional law in every state.

In some kinds of defamation lawsuits (but not all kinds of defamation lawsuits), "actual malice" which means knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth, must be shown, so even a negligently stated falsehood is not actionable in those special kinds of defamation cases (mostly cases with public figure plaintiffs, media defendants, and/or case involving matters of public concern).

Does a defamation defense vary between states?

While most aspects of defamation law are mandated by the U.S. Constitution and a shared common law tradition, there are some slight and subtle differences between the states in defamation law, mostly concerning defamation suits by non-public figures against non-media defendants concerning matters that are not a matter of public concern. This impacts whether "actual malice" must be shown and can influence the burden of proof in defamation cases.

Statutes of limitation for defamation suits also vary significantly between states.

Even if the release of truthful information results in permanent career damage (i.e. loss of job, reputation, etc.) to someone, the truth would protect the author from a defamation lawsuit, correct?

Yes. Keep in mind, however, that a defamation lawsuit is a suit for damage to one's reputation caused by a false statement. Sometimes disclosures of truthful information constitute an actionable tort other than defamation, however.

For example, there would potentially be a civil action against someone who had signed a non-disclosure agreement for revealing truthfully information that the person sued contractually agreed not to disclose (e.g. the terms of the settlement agreement in a court case with a non-disclosure/confidentiality term, or the recipe for a restaurant's secret sauce that is a trade secret).

Similarly, a doctor who revealed confidential patient medical information that was true could be sued.

But, usually, in the absence of a particularlized confidentiality duty, truth is an absolute defense.

  • Is that also the case if someone says something that is factually the truth, but is intentionally misleading and designed to give the wrong impression? – gnasher729 Dec 9 '17 at 22:56
  • @gnasher729 There are fraud cases that sometimes hold that but only in situations where it is intended to defraud, was reasonable to rely upon by a particular person and actually was relied upon, and causes an individualized harm to the person relying on it. It is not at all obvious that the same is true in the case of defamation. The tort of false light has been widely rejected by almost all (if not all) jurisdictions. – ohwilleke Dec 11 '17 at 16:08

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