Florida Defamation Laws

Defining Defamation in Florida

Libel, slander, and defamation in Florida are causes for civil action by a plaintiff against a defendant who communicated to a third party something that that is meant to hurt the plaintiff’s reputation or damage his economic well-being. Some instances of libel or defamation are considered criminal within the state of Florida. While Florida does not specifically define criminal libel, the criminal statutes protect the fiscal services industry by making it a misdemeanor to defame businesses within that industry. Florida also considers libel to be criminal when the chastity of a woman is brought under attack.

A plaintiff has two years from the date the defamatory statements were published to bring a defamation or libel case against a defendant.

Public vs. Private Figures in Florida

If your job entails acting on behalf of the government or puts you in a position where your workplace is known by the general public, there’s a distinct possibility you could be considered a public figure under Florida state law. Public figures recognized by the courts in Florida include a hospital administrator, harbor master, police and corrections officers.

A private figure only has to prove negligence on the part of the defendant. Public figures, however, must demonstrate the presence of actual malice to inflict damage to the plaintiff’s reputation and social standing on the part of the defendant.

Defenses for Defamation in Florida

Primary defenses for defamation allowable under Florida state law include: truth, fair reporting privilege pertaining to legislative and judicial reports and reviews, opinion, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The fair reporting privilege defense is commonly used by defendants when the plaintiff is a government official functioning in his or her official capacity.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act holds webmasters harmless when it comes to third-party user generated content that is defamatory in nature. For this defense to be valid, the webmaster must not have told the user to create a defamatory blog post or comments on the website.

Florida is a Per Se State

Florida recognizes Defamation Per Se originating from an individual or business not from the media. The media cannot be held liable for Defamation Per Se. According to the courts in Florida, Defamation Per Se occurs between private figures.  Defamation Per Se in Florida is any statement or publication that is in and of itself defamatory with the intent of ruining the plaintiff’s reputation, social standing, or fiscal well-being. Defamation Per Se statements falsely, and maliciously, insinuate the plaintiff is afflicted with a terminal disease, imply the plaintiff has engaged in criminal activity, or has acted in a way that is unbecoming of his or her profession. Again, private figures do not have to prove actual malice. Private figures only have to prove the defendant was – at the very least – negligent when making such false statements against the plaintiff.

Damages Awarded for Defamation in Florida

Among the damages for defamation in Florida include:

  • actual damages
  • compensatory damages
  • punitive damages

Bloggers Are Journalists Under Florida Defamation Law

In 2014, a Florida Appeals Court ruled that bloggers are granted the same protections as traditional newspaper journalists. Source.