Understanding Defamation in Florida
Personal injury lawsuits don’t always come in the shape of a physical injury.
Injury can also be done to one’s character or reputation, leading to similar types of damages as you would see in a personal injury case related to a physical injury, like a slip and fall or car crash incident. Some of these damages include lost wages or future income because of a lost job, mental pain and suffering, and negative effects to one’s personal relationships, like a spouse, family or friends.
Personal injury lawsuits that come in the form of harm to one’s character or reputation are called defamation claims.
What is defamation?
Defamation suits arise out of false claims that are negligently communicated to others about an individual, which in turn causes injury or harm to the individual.
A statement can be considered defamatory if it puts the plaintiff in a negative light. Some of the key tenets of what might be considered negative include:
- The individual is incompetent in his or her job, profession or trade;
- The individual has a disease that others could catch as a result of being with that person; or
- The individual has committed a serious crime.
It is important to note that defamation, by definition, refers to a false statement that was stated as fact — not as an opinion. Opinions cannot be considered defamatory — the First Amendment protects this type of speech.
For example, saying “Tim is such a loser,” to others would be an opinion — not a false statement of fact. That speech is not actionable by way of a personal injury lawsuit.
On the other hand, saying “I think Jim may have stolen an audio system from his neighbors,” could be considered defamation against Jim. The issue is that implying that Jim may have broken a law can still be construed as a statement of fact in court.
The other key factor in a defamation claim is that the false statement must have been made to another party. If the statement was not broadcasted to anyone else, it would not, therefore, cause harm to the individual.
Libel vs. Slander
Libel and slander fit under the larger umbrella of defamation. Libel refers to written defamation, while slander refers to verbal defamation. If, for example, a newspaper runs a story on Sarah, stating that she had stolen money from her office when that was untrue, Sarah may be able to file a libel lawsuit against the newspaper. Also, if a TV news station runs a piece on the same subject, Sarah could file a slander lawsuit against the TV station.
Negligence in Defamation Cases
Another key factor in defamation cases, like all other personal injury cases, is the presence of negligence on the part of the defendant.
If a false statement was made about a private person — meaning they cannot be considered a public figure of some sort — the individual who made the statement to others can be held liable only if:
- They knew the statement was false;
- They acted with negligence in failing to determine whether the statement was true or false; and
- They acted with “reckless disregard” for whether the statement was true or false.
Has someone defamed you?
If you believe you’ve been a victim of defamation, contact the lawyers at Boone & Davis in Broward County. We are happy to help you pursue the compensation you deserve.