For a defamation claim to be valid under Florida law, two elements must be identified.
- That the defendant published a false statement to a third party about the plaintiff; and
- That the falsity of the statement thereby published caused injury to the plaintiff
Both constitute the major elements of a defamation claim. Nonetheless, another element that must be proven by the plaintiff is that the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence.
The general defamation law and defamation claim in Florida have similar elements with a few exceptions. These exceptions are discussed in this section.
Defamation Per Se
The legal concept termed “defamation per se” refers to a doctrine which portends that certain statements of fact are so egregious such that a court will presume that such statements resulted in a dent on the plaintiff’s reputation.
Under Florida State law, a statement would be adduced as defamation per se if it accuses the plaintiff of committing a crime or attributes to the plaintiff, characteristics, conduct, or a condition incompatible with the proper exercise of the plaintiff’s lawful trade, profession, office, or business.
Nonetheless, the Florida Supreme Court ruled, in 1985, that the state no longer recognizes presumed damages accrued to defamation per se in lawsuits against media defendants. Accordingly, there have been no cases, at least not to the awareness of the CMPLP, where it was decided that a blogger or non-traditional journalist is a “media defendant” for purposes of applying this rule.
In all, a Florida court could still presume damages based on defamation per se, if the case involves matters of purely private concern.
Private and Public Figures
Public officials who seek to prevail on a defamation claim must prove actual malice. Under Florida State Law, public officials include a police officer, a corrections officer, an administrator of a large public hospital, and a harbormaster. The conception of a public official may expand beyond the current number and is solely at the discretion of the courts.
Under Florida statutes, there is no specific definition of the elements of criminal libel. However, it does voice strong barring of the following that constitute the legal definition of criminal libel:
- Making false statements that harm the reputation of a bank or other financial institution
- Accuse a female of being unchaste
The charge for this crime is misdemeanor of the first degree.
Prosecution: Actual Malice and Negligence
The specific intent that must be proven by a plaintiff for a defendant may be negligence or malice, depending on the standing on the plaintiff.
- If the plaintiff is a private figure, the proof will be at least negligence
- If the plaintiff is a public official, an all-purpose public figure, or a limited-purpose public figure, the proof will be actual malice
Here, negligence portends that the defendant simply paid no regard to ascertaining if the allegedly defamatory statements were true or not. While an actual malice portends that, the defendant had actual foreknowledge of the falsity or recklessly ignored the falsity of the allegedly defamatory.
Privileges and Defenses
The privileges and defenses in context of defamation actions recognized by Florida courts include:
- Opinion and fair comment privileges
- Substantial truth
- Fair report privilege
- Wire service
Although, the Florida Supreme Court has not explicitly recognized the neutral reportage privilege, it has be recognized by lower court cases in Florida.
A defendant may also call up a defense from the Communications Decency Act that protects a defendant if a third party posts anything of a defamatory nature on your blog or website: where a third part is neither you nor your employee nor someone acting under your direction.
Statute of Limitations for Defamation
Under Florida Law, the statute of limitations for defamation is 2 (two) years. In addition, Florida applies the single publication rule, although it has not stood in a Florida court when the rule is applied to the Internet. On the only occasion where application of the single publication rule to the Internet was considered, it was withdrawn by the court and afterwards superseded by an opinion that did not address state of limitations issues.
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Strategic Criminal Defense
If you have been charged with a crime such as Defamation, or believe you may be charged sometime in the near future, call Broward criminal lawyer, Kenneth Padowitz, Esq. to discuss your situation. Kenneth Padowitz is an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney with trial-proven results from cases across the United States. We handle criminal cases throughout Broward County and all of South Florida. Don’t let this accusation rob you of your freedom. Contact Kenneth Padowitz, P.A. today to discuss this important matter.