All states except Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee recognize that some categories of false statements are so innately harmful that they are considered to be defamatory per se. In the common law tradition, damages for such false statements are presumed and do not have to be proven.
Statements are deemed defamatory per se when they falsely impute to the plaintiff one or more of the following:
- Allegations or imputations "injurious to another in their trade, business, or profession"
- Allegations or imputations "of loathsome disease" (historically leprosy and sexually transmitted disease, now also including mental illness)
- Allegations or imputations of "unchastity" (usually only in unmarried people and sometimes only in women)
- Allegations or imputations of criminal activity (sometimes only crimes of moral turpitude).
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