Defamation Lawsuits: How Dare You Say That!

People tell lies everyday, and it is an annoying but accepted part of life. According to an article in Scientific American, it is an important part of our cognitive development. But lying can have harmful consequences, especially when a person lies about another person. It can tarnish the person’s reputation, damage relationships, and cause subsequent emotional and physical health problems. There is very little recourse for the damages that lying causes. That is why there are defamation lawsuits.  

What is Defamation?

Defamation is a false statement someone makes about another person that causes harm to that person. In Florida Statutes, lawmakers combine defamation with “libel, threatening letters, and similar circumstances.” 

  • Libel: If a person writes a false statement about another party, and they harm them because of it, they have committed the act of libel. In Florida, the victim can sue for damages. The courts may also charge the perpetrator of the libel with a misdemeanor crime. If the written statement is published, the owner of the publication may also be held liable. He or she may also be charged with the crime. 
  • Slander: When a person speaks falsehoods about another party, and they harm them because of it, they have committed the act of slander. Florida doesn’t specifically list slander, but it does specifically identify the crime of impugning a woman’s chastity. It also identifies slander of financial institutions as a criminal activity. 
  • Threats: Any person who threatens to commit bodily harm of another is liable for the harm that threat causes. This includes threats of terrorism such as mass shootings. The legal system will likely charge these individuals with felonies. 

Civil Lawsuit Law In Florida for Libel

In Chapter 770 of Florida State Statutes, it outlines the civil actions people can take as a result of libel or slander. First, the victim must notify the publication of the defamatory statements. He or she must notify no more than 5 days before filing a suit.This gives the publication a chance to run corrections and correct their wrongdoing. If the publication retracts and publicly apologizes for the statement within the allowable timeline, the plaintiff will be limited in the damages to court awards. Florida law also limits the person to suing only one entity for defamation, and he or she can only sue for that defamatory statement one time. 

Negligence vs. Malice in Defamation

A person may defame another without actual intent to harm. This happens when people spread rumors or gossip about others. However, gossip that harms the reputation of celebrities and public individuals is not going to result in a successful suit for that public figure. In order for the courts to side with the public figure, they must see that the defendant acted maliciously. However, for individuals who are not considered public, negligent defamation counts. 

Per quod vs. Per se

The challenge for plaintiffs in civil suits regarding defamation is proving damages. Florida automatically assumes there are damages in “per se” defamation but requires extensive proof in “per quod” defamation. 

Per se defamation actions are specifically outlined in Florida law. A synonym for per se would be “intrinsically.” In other words, the courts accept intrinsic damages in some forms of defamation. These specific types of defamation are: 

  • Falsely claiming the person committed an “infamous” crime (infamous meaning felonious or crimes that are associated with a lack of moral character). 
  • False claim that the person has a mental illness or infectious disease.
  • Falsely claiming the person has engaged in sexual misconduct.
  • Falsely claim that the person has done anything that injures his career. 

Proving Damages in Per Quod Defamation

Proving damages in defamation cases can be difficult because it is not always clear that the damages were caused as a result of a defendant’s actions. Loss of revenue coupled with comments from a defamatory review could be considered proof. This proof can also have projected, long-term outcomes. In a per se case, the courts may award punitive damages. In a per quod case, you may have to prove malicious intent to get the same damages. 

Online Defamation

Newspapers and other publications have some protection under Florida law because they have the ability to retract and correct defamatory statements. Online publications also have this protection, and this includes bloggers. This prevents publications from having to pay large sums for negligent statements.
However, social media and the internet have opened the gates of defamation to the world. The internet is filled with rumors, false accusations, and outright lies that harm other people. It can be difficult to stop once the rumor mill has started. Online defamation has definitely caused an increase in defamation lawsuits because it is easy to publish incorrect statements out of negligence or malic. 

Requirements for a Defamation Lawsuit

Like all civil cases, there are requirements in order to make a defamation case. These requirements are: 

  • False statement
  • Subject of statement was the plaintiff
  • Statement was made to a third party
  • Statement caused damages

The requirements for defamation are simple, but they are also subjective, which is why defamation lawsuits can be complicated. 

Statute of Limitations

Like many Florida lawsuits, the statute of limitations for defamation cases is 2 years from the date of publication. This means the lawsuit must be filed within this time period, or the courts will not accept it. 

Deciding to File a Defamation Lawsuit

There are many lies published every day on different forms of media. If those lies hurt your reputation or your income, you may want to file a defamation lawsuit. However, there are some important considerations. 

  1. Do you meet the requirements? Look above at the requirements for a defamation lawsuit. Can you easily say that you meet each requirement? 
  2. Can you prove damages? If you have a per se defamation case, this won’t be as important. But if you are suing in a per quod case, you will have to prove that you actually suffered damages. 
  3. Is it worth the effort? Can you easily recover from your damages? Are the damages large enough to go through the cost of a trial? Even if your lawyer is being paid a contingency fee (meaning he or she doesn’t get paid unless you win), there are significant time and stress expenses. 
  4. Consider the relationship with the defendant. Make sure you want to sever ties with the defendant. In some cases, you may be able to repair the relationship, but don’t count on it. 
  5. Do you have adequate representation? Anytime a person files a lawsuit, they need to be comfortable with their representation or whoever is guiding them through the legal process. If you are deciding to file a defamation lawsuit, you need a lawyer you trust. 

Preparation = Success in Defamation Lawsuits

Preparing for your defamation lawsuit is a sure way to having a successful lawsuit. Gather any evidence you have of the defamation right away. If it is online, make sure you have screenshots, as the plaintiff may try to remove it. Lastly, seek representation from a law firm with experience and a lawyer who you feel you can trust. 

When you call Kirshner, Groff, and Diaz, you’ll be able to speak with an actual lawyer right away and receive a free, no-obligation about your case. We have the experience you need to get your case going, so you can recover from your damages and get back to normal life. 

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