Innocent-Construction Rule Law and Legal Definition

Innocent construction rule refers to a principle that an allegedly libelous statement will be given an innocuous or harmless interpretation if the statement is either ambiguous or harmless. Courts must interpret the words "as they appeared to have been used and according to the idea they intended to convey to the reasonable reader." The rule does not require courts to strain to find an unnatural innocent meaning for a statement when a defamatory meaning is far more reasonable.

The following are examples of case law on the rule:

When a defamatory meaning was clearly intended and conveyed, courts should not strain to interpret allegedly defamatory words in their mildest and most inoffensive sense in order to hold them nonlibellous under the innocent construction rule. [Giant Screen Sports v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 553 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. Ill. 2009)]

This rule requires courts to consider a written or oral statement in context, giving the words, and their implications, their natural and obvious meaning. If a statement may reasonably be interpreted innocently, it cannot be actionable per se. [Republic Tobacco Co. v. N. Atl. Trading Co., 381 F.3d 717, 726-727 (7th Cir. Ill. 2004)]