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3.11-8  Damages for Libel/Slander Per Se

Revised to January 1, 2008

In determining the amount of general damages to award for the injury to the plaintiff's reputation, you should consider what reputation the plaintiff had in the community when the (statement / writing) was made.  You should consider all of the circumstances surrounding the making of the (statement / writing).  You may also compensate the plaintiff for damages that (he/she) will likely incur in the future.  These damages can include additional damage to (his/her) reputation that occurs as a result of the bringing of this lawsuit. 

In addition to general damages awarded for the injury to the plaintiff's reputation, you may also award the plaintiff what are called special damages, or damages for economic loss.  To recover special damages, however, the plaintiff must prove that (he/she) suffered economic loss that was legally caused by the publication of the defendant's defamatory (statement / writing), even where the defamation is (libel / slander) per se.  General and special damages together comprise what are called compensatory damages, or damages that compensate the plaintiff for (his/her) loss.

If you find that the plaintiff has suffered a violation of (his/her) legal rights but (he/she) has not suffered an actual injury, (he/she) is entitled at least to nominal damages.  Nominal damages may be awarded because you find that the defamatory material is of an insignificant character, or because you find that the plaintiff had a bad character, so that no substantial harm has been done to the plaintiff's reputation, or there is no proof that serious harm has been done to the plaintiff's reputation.  Nominal damages are also awarded when they are the only damages claimed and the action is brought for the purpose of vindicating the plaintiff's character by a jury verdict that establishes that the defamatory material was false.

Punitive damages, which in Connecticut are limited to attorney's fees and expenses, may also be awarded.  Punitive damages may be awarded if you find that the defendant's actions in this case were wilful, wanton or malicious, as I shall later define these terms.  These damages, however, are not awarded as a matter of right, but rather as a matter of discretion, to be determined by you after you consider all of the evidence. Both nominal and punitive damages also may be awarded where the defamatory material is (libel / slander) per se.

To summarize, if the defamatory material is (libel / slander) per se, the plaintiff is entitled to an award of general damages for injury to reputation without proof of monetary loss, and an award of special damages upon proof of actual injury or loss.  You may award punitive damages as a matter of discretion.  At a minimum, where (libel/slander) per se has been established, a plaintiff should receive an award of at least nominal damages, usually one dollar, though not necessarily anything more. 

Authority

Davidian v. Paparian, 115 Conn. 718, 719 (1932); Craney v. Donovan, 92 Conn. 236 (1917); Lawton v. Weiner, 91 Conn. App. 698, 720 (2005); DeVito v. Schwartz, 66 Conn. App. 228, 235-37 (2001).

Notes

See General Statutes § 52-237, applicable to libel actions only, for the effect of a finding of malice in fact or the effect of a retraction made or refused.

When punitive damages may be awarded, both attorneys may agree to have the court determine the amount of attorney's fees.  In this situation, the jury need only determine if punitive damages are warranted.
 


 

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