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AMI 411 Definition of Defamatory

Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil

Ark. Model Jury Instr., Civil AMI 411
Arkansas Model Jury Instructions-Civil
November 2021 Update
Arkansas Supreme Court Committee On Jury Instructions-Civil
Chapter 4. Intentional Torts and Defamation
AMI 411 Definition of Defamatory
A defamatory statement is a statement of fact that is false and actually causes harm to a person's reputation. In determining whether the statement was defamatory, it must be considered as a whole, and the words must be taken in their plain and natural meaning. In determining whether or not a recipient of the statement reasonably understood the statement in a defamatory sense, you must take into account the surrounding circumstances known to the recipient at the time the statement was made.
Use this instruction if either AMI 407, 408, 409, or 410 is given.
This instruction was cited with approval in Boellner v. Clinical Study Centers, LLC, 2011 Ark. 83.
The truth of a statement is a defense to defamation, but the exact truth is not required. Pritchard v. Times Southwest Broadcasting, Inc., 277 Ark. 458, 642 S.W.2d 877 (1982). In Pritchard, the court stated: “[I]t is now generally agreed that it is not necessary to prove the literal truth of the accusation in every detail, and that it is sufficient to show that the imputation is substantially true, or as it is often put, to justify the ‘gist’, the ‘sting’ or the ‘substantial truth’ of the defamation.” 277 Ark. at 463, 642 S.W.2d at 879.
Statements may be “defamation by innuendo” if they “are susceptible of two meanings, one defamatory and one harmless. In that regard, we read the words in their plain and natural meaning, as they would be interpreted by a reader of the newspaper considering the articles as a whole.” 277 Ark. at 461, 642 S.W.2d at 878 (quoting Wortham v. Little Rock Newspapers, Inc., 273 Ark. 179, 618 S.W.2d 156 (1981)); Rachels v. Deener, 182 Ark. 931, 33 S.W.2d 39 (1930).
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. The court cited with approval Prosser & Keeton on Torts, § 112 (5th ed. 1984), which states, “Courts should require as a minimum for recovery in every case either evidence from which harm to reputation could reasonably be inferred or direct evidence of harm to reputation.” See also Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. v. Lee, 348 Ark. 707, 731, 74 S.W.3d 634, 651 (2002) (jury was instructed that “a defamatory statement must be false and must actually cause harm to a person's reputation.”).
A plaintiff must prove that the defamatory remark applies personally to the plaintiff as opposed to the plaintiff being a member of a class to which the comment was directed generally. Pigg v. Ashley County Newspaper, Inc., 253 Ark. 756, 489 S.W.2d 17 (1973).
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