The New Jersey Supreme Court Reaffirms Presumed Damages for Defamation, Limits Compensatory Damages


The New Jersey Supreme Court has strictly limited the ability of defamation plaintiffs to recover anything other than nominal damages under the presumed damages doctrine. While the Court reaffirmed that presumed damages still are recoverable in New Jersey, it held that plaintiffs can recover only nominal damages unless they prove they sustained actual damages as a result of the defamatory statements.

In W.J.A. v. D.A., No. A-77-10 (May 16, 2012), David Adams allegedly defamed Wayne Anderson (both fictitious names created by the Court) by publishing statements on a website he created that detailed alleged sex abuse by Anderson. Adams’s website also alleged that Anderson perjured himself and intimidated a witness during an earlier civil suit concerning the abuse claims. The site included Anderson’s name and address. The only proof of damages Anderson offered involved anguish and emotional injury, which the judge characterized as subjective moral reactions. Finding these allegations insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a defamation claim, the trial court granted summary judgment for Adams even though his statements were defamatory per se. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that plaintiffs can recover damages in a defamation action without proving actual harm.

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