If you're thinking about filing a defamation lawsuit in Texas, it's crucial for you to understand and comply with the state's filing deadline—called the "statute of limitations"—for this type of civil lawsuit.
In this article, we'll cover defamation law basics, including Texas's statute of limitations, why compliance with the statute of limitations is so important, and when the filing period may be extended.
Defamation happens when someone makes a false statement of fact about you that harms your reputation. Written defamation is called "libel." Spoken defamation is called "slander."
Private figures bringing a defamation lawsuit in Texas must also show that the defendant was careless (negligent) about whether the statement was true or false. Public figures and officials—politicians, celebrities, heads of major corporations—must show more than negligence. Public figures must show that the defendant acted with "actual malice" by making a statement knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim.
Before plaintiffs can sue for defamation in Texas, they must ask the defendant for a correction, clarification, or retraction.
Defendants who correct, clarify, or retract defamatory statements voluntarily or in response to a plaintiff's request are not liable for exemplary damages unless the statements were made with actual malice.
Texas law allows defendants to raise a number of privileges and defenses in defamation cases. Most commonly, defendants argue that the allegedly defamatory statement was substantially true, the statement was an opinion, or that the person making the statement had the privilege to make it.
(Tex. Civ. Pract. & Rem. Code §§ 73.001, 73.002, 73.005, 73.006, 73.055, 73.059 (2021).)
You have one year to file a defamation (slander or libel) lawsuit in Texas. In most cases, the statute of limitations begins to run when the defendant first speaks or publishes an allegedly defamatory statement. In some cases, when a defamatory statement is hard to find or not a matter of public knowledge, the limitations period begins to run when the plaintiff learns, or should have learned, of the existence of the defamatory statement.
In Texas, the limitations period begins to run when a defamatory statement is first published and doesn't reset if the statement is later repeated or republished unless the content is altered in a significant way or packaged for a new audience. For example, the limitations period for a magazine article begins to run on the date when the magazine is first published. But if the magazine article is incorporated into a book, a new statute of limitations period will likely begin on the date the book is published.
(Tex. Civ. Pract. & Rem. Code § 16.002 (2021).)
Plaintiffs can choose to file a defamation lawsuit (libel or slander) in one of the following counties:
Plaintiffs should think carefully about which venue is best from a practical and strategic standpoint. Which county is more convenient for you and your witnesses? Does one county have a jury pool that is more likely to favor you or your case? Lawyers often look at recent jury verdicts in different counties to see how similar cases have been decided before they choose a venue.
(Tex. Civ. Pract. & Rem. Code § 15.017 (2021).)
No two defamation cases are the same, so it's impossible to say how much a typical defamation case is worth.
Some Texas plaintiffs receive millions of dollars in damages. For example, in August 2022, a Texas jury found that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay nearly $50 million for falsely saying that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
But most defamation cases don't end in multimillion-dollar awards. Some plaintiffs lose their cases and get nothing. Others win and get nominal damages as low as $1. Still other plaintiffs end up with a satisfying court award or settlement. The value of each lawsuit depends on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
The three most common categories of damages in defamation cases include:
Learn more about damages in a defamation case.
Defamation lawsuits are hard to win in Texas. They require a jury to balance your right to defend your reputation against someone else's right to free speech. Both rights are highly valued in Texas.
Libel lawsuits tend to be easier to prove than slander because the defamatory statement is preserved in writing. Similarly, defamation claims involving private figures are easier to prove than claims involving public figures because public figures must show that they were defamed with actual malice.
In addition to potential problems of proof, defamation lawsuits are hard to win in Texas because they are expensive. Plaintiffs often don't have enough money to fund a lengthy lawsuit and might have trouble finding a lawyer who is willing to take their case on a contingency fee basis.
Remember, in most defamation cases, the statute of limitations begins to run when the defendant first makes the allegedly defamatory statement. But several situations can delay or pause the statute of limitations "clock" for defamation lawsuits in Texas. Here are a few examples:
(Tex. Civ. Pract. & Rem. Code §§ 16.001, 16.002, 16.063 (2021).)
If you try to file a defamation lawsuit in Texas more than one year after the defamatory statements were first made, and no exception applies to extend the statute of limitations deadline, your lawsuit will be dismissed.
You will not only lose your chance to get compensation for your losses in court, but you'll also lose leverage in out-of-court settlement negotiations. If the other side knows that the statute of limitations deadline is near or has already passed, the likelihood of resolving your case is slim to none.
If you have questions about how Texas's statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit—especially if the one-year deadline has passed or is looming—it's time to discuss your situation with a knowledgeable Texas attorney.
As you can see, defamation is a complicated area of law. A lawyer can help you figure out whether you can prove you've been the victim of libel or slander and how long you have to file a lawsuit to clear your name.
To get your defamation lawsuit started:
When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.