California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

1720. Affirmative Defense—Truth

[Name of defendant] is not responsible for [name of plaintiff]’s harm, if any, if [he/she] proves that [his/her] statement(s) about [name of plaintiff] [was/were] true. [Name of defendant] does not have to prove that the statement(s) [was/were] true in every detail, so long as the statement(s) [was/were] substantially true.

New September 2003; Revised October 2008

Directions for Use

This instruction is to be used only in cases involving private plaintiffs on matters of private concern. In cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the burden of proving falsity is on the plaintiff.

Sources and Authority

  • Section 581A of the Restatement Second of Torts provides: “One who publishes a defamatory statement of fact is not subject to liability for defamation if the statement is true.”
  • “Truth, of course, is an absolute defense to any libel action. In order to establish the defense, the defendant need not prove the literal truth of the allegedly libelous accusation, so long as the imputation is substantially true so as to justify the ‘gist or sting’ of the remark.” (Campanelli v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 572, 581—582 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d 891], internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 556—560, 611, 614

4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 45, Defamation, § 45.10 (Matthew Bender)

30 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 340, Libel and Slander, § 340.55 (Matthew Bender)

14 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 142, Libel and Slander (Defamation), § 142.39 (Matthew Bender)

1 California Civil Practice: Torts (Thomson West) §§ 21:19, 21:52