Florida Defamation: Legal Overview
In Florida, defamation is a false statement of fact, communicated to a third party, which is meant to hurt the plaintiff’s reputation or 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 laws protect the financial services industry by making it a misdemeanor to defame companies 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 considers defamation to be criminal when the chastity of a woman is besmirched.
The defamation statute of limitations in Florida is two years.
Public vs. Private Figures in Florida
If you work for the government or you’re famous — locally, nationally or internationally — a Florida judge will probably 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. However, public figure plaintiffs must demonstrate the presence of actual malice to win a defamation lawsuit.
Defenses for Defamation in Florida
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.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act confers defamation immunity on webmasters for user comments. For this defense to be valid, the webmaster must not have told the user to create the defamatory statement or edited it.
Florida is a Per Se State
Florida recognizes Defamation Per Se.
Defamation Per Se statements falsely, and maliciously, insinuate the plaintiff is:
- Afflicted with a terminal disease;
- Engaged in criminal activity; or
- Acted in a way unbecoming of his or her profession.
Defamation by Implication
Florida law recognizes defamation by implication. A close cousin to “false light”, defamation by implication is when a true statement creates a false impression. For example, saying, “Bill takes pictures of little kids,” depending on the content, may imply that Bill is a pedophile. This type of defamation happened in Dale v. Ford. And although the case wasn’t litigated, the person who made the insinuation was forced to apologize and retract.
Defamation Damages in Florida
Allowable Florida defamation damages:
- Actual Damages
- Compensatory Damages
- Punitive Damages
Bloggers Are Journalists Under Florida Defamation Law
In 2014, a Florida court ruled that bloggers are granted the same protections as traditional newspaper journalists. Source.
Due to a nationwide network of attorneys, Kelly / Warner can handle Florida defamation cases. Contact us.