The statute of limitations for defamation claims in Virginia is just one year from the date of publication. “Publication” in this context refers to the communication of the defamatory statement to a third party. A person who repeats a defamatory statement originally made by someone else can sometimes be held liable for republishing the statement. That republication would constitute a new defamation claim and trigger a new one-year period under the statute of limitations. Republication liability, however, generally requires some evidence that the person repeating the defamation is vouching for the statement’s accuracy or adopting it as his/her own. Merely sharing someone else’s defamatory statement, without adding to it in some way or directing it to a new audience, will usually not give rise to defamation liability and will therefore not extend the statute of limitations beyond one year from the original publication.
In the Lokhova v. Halper case I wrote about last year, the plaintiff sued The New York Times and other publications roughly two years after they published articles about her that she believed were defamatory. She argued that her claim was not time-barred because several people had tweeted links to the articles in question within the 12-month period prior to her filing of the lawsuit. The court rejected her argument and dismissed the case, finding that merely sharing an article with others does not necessarily amount to republication. The article was already on the internet. Re-tweeting it, opined the court, is the equivalent of sharing a hard-copy book or magazine with another person. Doing so does not amount to a new publication that would trigger a new one-year period within which a defamation claim might be brought.