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AMI 407 Issues—Claim for Damages Based Upon Defamation—Private Figure

Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil

Ark. Model Jury Instr., Civil AMI 407
Arkansas Model Jury Instructions-Civil
November 2021 Update
Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil
Chapter 4. Intentional Torts and Defamation
AMI 407 Issues—Claim for Damages Based Upon Defamation—Private Figure
(Plaintiff) claims damages from (defendant) for defamation and has the burden of proving each of the following five essential propositions:
First, that [he][she] sustained damages;
Second, that (defendant) published a false statement of fact concerning (plaintiff);
Third, that the statement of fact was defamatory;
Fourth, that (defendant) acted [with negligence in failing to determine the truth of the statement prior to its publication][or][with knowledge the statement was false]; and
Fifth, that the publication of the statement was a proximate cause of (plaintiff)'s damages.
[If you find from the evidence in this case that each of these propositions has been proved, then your verdict should be for (plaintiff); but if, on the other hand, you find from the evidence that any of these propositions has not been proved, then your verdict should be for (defendant).]
Do not use the bracketed paragraph when an affirmative defense, such as privilege, is in issue, or when the case is submitted on interrogatories.
In an action based on negligence, use AMI 302 in addition to this instruction.
Where the defense of qualified privilege is in issue, AMI 409 should be given, rather than this instruction.
Use AMI 411 and 412 when this instruction is given.
This instruction was noted in Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. v. Lee, 348 Ark. 707, 74 S.W.3d 634 (2002) and was cited as authority in Calvary Christian School, Inc. v. Huffstuttler, 367 Ark. 117, 238 S.W.3d 58 (2006).
Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 347, 94 S. Ct. 2997, 3011, 41 L. Ed. 2d 789 (1974), held that the states are free to decide the appropriate level of fault for recovery by private figure plaintiffs in defamation actions, as long as liability without fault is not established. The Court determined that the United States Constitution demanded a minimum requirement of negligence. Arkansas has chosen this “low option.” In Dodrill v. Arkansas Democrat Co., 265 Ark. 628, 590 S.W.2d 840 (1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1076, 100 S. Ct. 1024, 62 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1980), the Arkansas Supreme Court held that a publisher of a libelous article is liable to a private figure for failing to use ordinary care prior to publication.
In Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. v. Dodrill, 281 Ark. 25, 28, 660 S.W.2d 933, 935 (1983), the court stated that “[I]t is settled law that damage to reputation is the essence of libel and protection of the reputation is the fundamental concept of the law of defamation. The action turns on whether the communication or publication tends or is reasonably calculated to cause harm to another's reputation.”
United Ins. Co. of America v. Murphy, 331 Ark. 364, 961 S.W.2d 752 (1998), abolished the doctrine of presumed damages in defamation per se cases and announced that, prospectively, a plaintiff in a defamation case must prove reputational injury in order to recover damages.
Although plaintiff must prove actual harm to reputation, the showing required is slight—only that the defamatory statement detrimentally affected plaintiff's relations with others. The law does not require proof of actual out-of-pocket losses. See Northport Health Services, Inc. v. Owens, 356 Ark. 630, 158 S.W.3d 164 (2004); Ellis v. Price, 337 Ark. 542, 990 S.W.2d 543 (1999).
See generally Lisa R. Pruitt, Comment, Law of Defamation: An Arkansas Primer, 42 Ark. L. Rev. 915 (1989).
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