Florida Defamation: Legal Overview

Defining Defamation in Florida

In Florida, defamation is a false statement, communicated to a third party, and is meant to hurt the plaintiff’s reputation or damage economic well-being.

Florida is one of the few jurisdictions where criminal defamation statutes are still on the books. While Florida doesn’t specifically define criminal libel or slander, the state’s statutes protect the financial services industry by making it a misdemeanor to defame businesses in that industry.  (It’s similar to states that have so-called “Food Libel Laws.”)

Perhaps a statute still on the books from Victorian times, Florida still also considers defamation to be criminal when the chastity of a woman is brought under attack.

The defamation statute of limitations in Florida is two years.

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 strong possibility a Florida judge will deem you a “public figure” for the purposes of a defamation lawsuit.

In the past, Florida courts have recognized hospital administrators, harbor masters, in addition to police and corrections officers as “public figures” in libel and slander cases.

Why, for a defamation lawsuit, does it matter if a plaintiff is considered a private or public figure?

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

Florida defamation lawyers know that typical defenses for defamation 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 or a journalist.

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.  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.

Defamation by implication

Florida law recognizes defamation by implication.  This close cousin to “false light” means true statements that create a false impression.  For example, a person says that “Bill takes pictures of little kids” which implies Bill is a pedophile.  This happened in Dale v. Ford, and although the case wasn’t litigated the person who made the insinuation apologized.

Allowable Defamation Damages 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.

Contact a Florida Defamation Attorney for more information.