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Liability For Speech Made About Another Person

Recently, four women joined a defamation lawsuit brought against Bill Cosby claiming that the actor and his attorney defamed the women in defending against the women’s claims that they were sexually assaulted by Mr. Cosby. The lawsuit was brought because the women claim that in defending against their claims, Mr. Cosby and his attorney branded the women publicly as liars. Even when defending a friend or loved one when you think others have lied about them or accused them of something false, you should be careful of what you say. Sometimes people confuse their freedom of speech rights with the right to say anything they want about other people. However, while the law may protect people for expressing their opinions, the law does not typically protect people who use a false statement of fact against another person.

Constitutional Protections and Notice Before Suing

Article I, Section 4 of Florida’s constitution protects a person’s freedom of speech, but cautions that in exercising this freedom, people must be responsible for an abuse of this right. The Florida constitution further protects a person accused of defamation who acts in good faith that he is telling the truth even though this turns out to be wrong. When the false statement is written or published, the defamation is legally known as libel; when it is spoken, it is legally referred to as slander. Before filing suit in Florida for defamation, the allegedly defamed person must serve written notice to the person he seeks to sue, specifying the broadcast or article or other source wherein the statements claimed to be false and defamatory were broadcast or published. This notice should be given at least five days before the person intends to file the lawsuit. While this notice requirement is usually for defendants who are journalists or otherwise classified as “the media,” it can apply to a defendant with a public forum, for example a blogger with a blog accessible to the general public. This is important to remember due to the prevalence of electronic communication.

Available Defenses to Defamation

Truth is always a defense to defamation, but it is not the only defense, as there are some statements that can be privileged, granting the person making the statements some immunity against liability for defamation. Florida recognizes an absolute privilege against liability for potentially defamatory statements made by attorneys, clients, witnesses, and judges made during a judicial proceeding. However, this privilege is limited if the potentially defamatory statements are made outside court, or ex-parte, by any of these parties. Therefore, as Florida’s Supreme Court has held, an attorney who makes potentially defamatory statements about the opposing party to others outside the courtroom is not covered by the absolute privilege. Webmasters and other internet publishers are also protected in some cases under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for the potentially defamatory statements of users.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been defamed due to the false statements of another, you may be able to get compensation for your losses. Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys at Boone & Davis for a consultation today.

Boone & Davis, Attorneys at Law is located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and serves clients in and around Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach and Broward County.

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