How Long Does It Take to Sue for Defamation?

December 21, 2023    •    6 min read

If you’re considering filing a defamation lawsuit, you may wonder, how long will this process take? This is a common – and important – question for any defamation plaintiff to ask. Anyone contemplating bringing a defamation lawsuit – as well as those facing the prospect of defending themselves against a defamation claim – should familiarize themselves with how these cases proceed through the court system and the time it may take to bring the legal action to a close. 

In this article, the Defamation Practice Group at Buckingham will describe the projected timeline for a defamation lawsuit and what to expect along the way.

What Is the Defamation Lawsuit Timeline?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not straightforward. Like many other types of civil claims, resolving a Defamation lawsuit (whether for libel or slander) is possible at various stages. 

In some cases, a defamation lawsuit can be resolved within days of its initiation; as a defendant who receives notice of a lawsuit may decide it is in their best interest to resolve the matter quickly through a mutual agreement, and the parties will then voluntarily dismiss the case with little to no involvement of the court. In other cases, defamation lawsuits will continue all the way to a civil trial, with a judge or jury determining whether the defendant has defamed the plaintiff and how much a plaintiff should be compensated. Many, if not most, defamation lawsuits are resolved somewhere in between these two extremes; once the parties have had the opportunity to see the evidence the other has to support their claims or defenses, they will make a strategic decision to resolve the matter without going to trial.

When a case resolves – through settlement or an official judgment of the court – will depend upon the specific facts of the case and the parties’ goals and interests. How long it will take to get through the litigation process will also depend on other factors, such as the amount of information about the case to be exchanged, the number of witnesses to be deposed, and how quickly the court can rule on relevant motions or schedule the case for trial.

Two male defamation attorneys sit at a desk and discuss the timeline of how long lawsuits take.

What is a Defamation Lawsuit?

A defamation lawsuit is a civil action arising from the defendant’s publication of false and defamatory statements about the plaintiff to third parties. The “publication” of false information can occur through spoken word (e.g. an in-person or telephone communication), by printed word (e.g. through publication in a newspaper), through an audio or video broadcast (e.g. through television or radio broadcast), or through posting false information to the internet or “online defamation.”

These days online defamation is the most common form of defamation and can cause much more significant harm to the victim than other “traditional” types of defamation due to the ease with which the information is spread to a large number of individuals within a short period of time.

Some common scenarios in which defamation claims can arise, both in terms of online defamation, and other “traditional” forms of defamation include:

  • A business competitor’s publication of false, defamatory, and harmful reviews about the plaintiff’s business on a review platform like Google or Yelp
  • A false statement in a newspaper or in a news broadcast, such as falsely claiming that someone was convicted of a crime when they were not
  • False online posts on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram accusing a former partner of infidelity or abuse

Defamation lawsuits require that the plaintiff plead and prove the elements of defamation. These elements can vary based upon the jurisdiction where the lawsuit is brought and the facts of the case but generally require a showing that the defendant published a false statement of fact about the plaintiff to third parties, without privilege, and with (at minimum) negligence, and that the publication caused harm to the plaintiff.

Notably, in many defamation lawsuits, a plaintiff can bring other, associated civil claims to address the defendant’s wrongful conduct and enhance the likelihood of a meaningful remedy that addresses the harm caused. Some of the most common claims that are brought alongside a claim for defamation are false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress (or IIED), tortious interference with a contractual or business relationship, and trade libel. In addition to these common claims, a wide variety of other causes of action may be available to a plaintiff depending on the specific facts of the case and the jurisdiction where the lawsuit is filed.

How to File a Defamation Lawsuit

If you are the victim of defamation, your first thought may be to file a lawsuit to hold the perpetrator accountable for the harm they have caused you. However, before jumping into litigation, you should consult with an attorney you trust to discuss the pros and cons of litigation and decide whether initiating a lawsuit is the right choice for you based on the facts of your matter and the goals you wish to accomplish.

If you have already explored your other options and you decide you are ready to move forward with initiating legal action, the process will start with filing your Complaint for defamation – as well as any other applicable claims – in the appropriate court and serving the defendant with a copy of the Complaint. Service is a crucial component of any civil lawsuit, as it places the defendant(s) on notice of the lawsuit and triggers a duty of the defendant to formally respond to the allegations raised in the Complaint. Once service is perfected, the lawsuit is officially commenced.

What Goes Into the Defamation Lawsuit Process?

After the defendant has been served with the complaint, the litigation process typically will proceed through the following stages:

  1. The pleading stage
  2. The discovery phase
  3. Dispositive motion practice
  4. Mediation/alternative dispute resolution
  5. Final trial preparation and trial

It’s important to note that each step requires specific details and timelines that influence the overall speed of a defamation lawsuit. Your attorney can provide a better idea of timing based on your unique case.

Two female defamation attorneys review lawsuit documents in court with a male judge.

Set Timelines Are Hard to Determine

As the above discussion suggests, there are many factors and variables that go into the litigation process and because each case is unique, there is no set time frame for a defamation lawsuit to be resolved – whether through settlement or otherwise. In addition to the above, other facts that impact the length of a lawsuit or the time it takes to reach a resolution include:

  • Whether the defendant engages in additional wrongful conduct during the course of the case, leading to an amendment of the complaint and additional time needed to explore new claims
  • The jurisdiction where the lawsuit is pursued, as some courts have busier schedules and set trial dates farther out in the future, while others stick to a strict schedule and may push a case to trial more quickly
  • The length of settlement negotiations, which may lead a court to postpone the timeline for (e.g.) conducting discovery or scheduling a trial if it appears a settlement is possible
  • Whether the defendant is an anonymous person, which may require additional steps to “unmask” them or reveal their identity
  • Other unforeseen circumstances beyond the parties control, as was the case with the coronavirus pandemic where courts limited activities that were conducted, causing a backlog of cases and further delays 

With all this said, if a case is not heavily contested or complex and the aforementioned complications are not present, a defamation case will, on average take on average approximately one year to resolve. Conversely, heavily contested and more complex cases generally will take several years to reach a conclusion. In most cases, whether complex or not, there will usually be periods of significant activity followed by a period of waiting. Throughout the process, it is important for clients and their attorneys to stay in close contact and be aware of the next steps to make sure the process goes smoothly.

Starting Your Lawsuit

If you have been harmed by false information published online that has hurt your reputation or the reputation of your business, it’s important to explore all options to remedy the situation. Sometimes the best option is to pursue litigation and you should seek out a trusted attorney to help you through this process. 

If you’re facing online defamation and would like to discuss the possibility of initiating litigation, contact the Defamation Practice Group at Buckingham for a free consultation.

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Andrew Stebbins

Partner | Cleveland

[email protected] 216.736.4233

Christina Williams

Associate | Cleveland

[email protected] 216-736-4234


Our attorneys will provide a collaborative, thoughtful approach to your legal needs. We look forward to connecting with you.