How Long Do I Have to File a Defamation Lawsuit in Illinois?

The defamation statute of limitations in Illinois puts a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to have the civil court system consider your libel or slander lawsuit.

If you're thinking about filing a defamation lawsuit in the Illinois civil court system, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of cases. Read on for the details on the filing deadline in Illinois, why it's so important to comply with this rule, and when the deadline might be extended.

One Year is the Standard Deadline for Filing a Defamation Lawsuit in Illinois

You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Illinois, according to 735 ILCS 5/13-201, which sets this deadline for the filing of any civil action seeking a remedy "for slander, libel or for publication of matter violating the right of privacy."

For purposes of the Illinois defamation statute of limitations, the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. If the statement is later repeated, copied, or republished verbatim and in the same manner, the one-year clock probably won't reset, and the plaintiff likely won't be entitled to bring another lawsuit. What usually matters is the date on which the defamatory statement was first made or first published, for purposes of the running of the statute of limitations, and for purposes of asking a court for defamation damages. This rule has been codified as the Uniform Single Publication Act in Illinois, starting at 740 ILCS 165/1.

In Illinois, as in most states, defamation can take one of two forms: libel or slander. Libel is typically defined as a false, harmful statement that is written down, or published in print or online (including via social media or even in the "comments" section of a web page), while slander is any form of oral or spoken defamation.

Note: When a statement meets certain criteria in terms of subject matter and impact on the subject, it's considered "defamatory per se", meaning harm to the plaintiff is presumed. False statements that often qualify as defamatory "per se" in Illinois include those linking the plaintiff (the subject of the statement) to certain criminal activity or incompetence in his or her trade or profession.

Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim and the difference between libel versus slander.

Extending the Illinois Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

Illinois law identifies a number of scenarios that could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the one-year filing deadline set by 735 ILCS 5/13-201.

For example:

If the defendant (the person who made the statement) was (or is) out of the state for any period of time beginning on the date the statement was made, the time of the defendant's absence won't be counted as part of the one-year filing period. (735 ILCS 5/13-208)

If, at the time the allegedly defamatory statement was made, the subject of the statement was under 18 years of age or under a legal disability (had been declared legally incompetent, for example), he or she will have two years to file the lawsuit upon reaching the age of 18 or having the legal disability removed. (735 ILCS 5/13-211)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than a year has passed since the defamatory statement was made, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in an Illinois court anyway, the court will almost certainly dismiss your case. If that happens, you’'ll have lost your right to ask any court for a legal remedy for the defamation.

It's important to note that the one-year Illinois statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your defamation case to court. It’s also crucial to your position if you’re negotiating an out-of-court settlement with the person who made the statement. If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows that your filing a lawsuit is now a procedural impossibility, you'll have lost all your leverage.

If you have questions about how Illinois’s statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit -- especially if the one-year deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Illinois attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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