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

Get your slander or libel lawsuit filed in line with North Carolina's statute of limitations for defamation cases, or the court will almost surely refuse to consider it.

If you're thinking about bringing a defamation lawsuit to court in North Carolina, you need to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of cases. Read on for the details on the filing deadline set by this North Carolina law, why it's so important to comply with the deadline, and when the filing period might be extended.

One Year is the Standard Filing Deadline for North Carolina Defamation Lawsuits

You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in North Carolina, according to North Carolina General Statutes section 1-54(3), which sets this deadline for the filing of any civil action seeking a legal remedy for damages caused by libel or slander.

Now is a good time to explain that in North Carolina, 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 North Carolina include those linking the plaintiff (the subject of the statement) to certain criminal activity or to the having of certain infectious diseases; or those that harm the subject in his or her trade or profession.

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

For purposes of the North Carolina 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.

Extending the North Carolina Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

North Carolina 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 North Carolina Compiled Laws section 600.5805(9).

For example, special rules usually apply if, at the time the allegedly defamatory statement is made, the subject (the person defamed) is under the age of 18 or has been declared insane or legally incompetent. In those situations, since the potential plaintiff is considered under a "legal disability," the one-year "clock" typically won't start running until the period of disability ends (meaning the potential plaintiff turns 18 or is declared sane or competent). This rule can be found at North Carolina General Statutes section 1-17.

And if the person who is alleged to have made the defamatory statement leaves the state of North Carolina before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of his or her absence probably won't be counted as part of the one-year time limit for filing the defamation suit, according to North Carolina General Statutes section 1-21.

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 the North Carolina's civil court system anyway, your case will almost certainly be dismissed. 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina’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 North Carolina attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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