Libel, Slander & Defamation
Defamation, whether in writing (libel) or oral (slander) is taken very seriously in the state of Florida, and certain defamatory statements are considered criminal acts that can be prosecuted as a first-degree misdemeanor or even a second or third-degree felony. Additionally, Florida has robust civil defamation laws that allow lawsuits for money damages. With over 100 years of combined litigation experience in Florida, the attorneys at Schwed Kahle & Kress are well-versed in Florida defamation law and what it takes to prosecute or defend libel, slander or business disparagement claims.
Civil actions for libel under Florida law
A civil action for libel based on a publication or broadcast in a newspaper, periodical or other medium cannot be brought unless the prospective plaintiff first gives the prospective defendant five days notice of the impending action and an amount of time (set forth in law) to print an apology, retraction or correction. Publishers can avoid a certain amount of liability for good faith mistakes that are followed with such an apology or retraction.
Defamation is Complex Litigation
Defamation cases are often challenging and complex. There are a number of elements to a defamation which must be proven, including:
Publication – Statement was communicated to at least one other party, whether orally or in writing, including an email or social media post.
Identification – Individual or company was named or clearly identified.
Defamation – Statement was false and defamatory, tending to injure the person’s or business’ reputation. Some otherwise defamatory statements are considered privileged, such as statements made in court or legislative proceedings, or other instances described in law.
Injury – Actual damages or pecuniary loss can be proven. However, some statements are considered defamation per se, and actual damages need not be separately proven.
Fault – Speaker or publisher was negligent in making the statement. If the statement concerned a public figure or official, the plaintiff must prove “actual malice” – knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the statement. Proving actual malice is often a high barrier to overcome.
Truth is a defense to libel or slander, but proving the truth or falsity of a statement is not always a simple matter. Similarly, a defamatory statement is a false assertion of fact, but many seemingly injurious statements are only the opinion of the speaker and therefore not defamatory. Determining whether a statement was meant as opinion or assertion of fact is not so easily determined, however. How the statement was intended and also how it was perceived are both important factors to consider.
Business disparagement and commercial defamation is becoming an increasingly litigious area due to the explosion of online business review websites and ability to broadcast opinions over social media to large numbers of people, causing significant damage to business reputations. States grappling with this issue may enact laws protecting businesses from negative reviews or protecting the rights of consumers to speak out, with confusing results. Schwed Kahle & Kress maintains a vigorous business and commercial litigation practice covering unfair competition and deceptive business practice claims, as well as commercial defamation and business disparagement.
Help with Florida Defamation Claims from Experienced and Successful Business Litigation Attorneys
For help with libel, slander and defamation claims in Florida, contact Schwed Kahle & Kress in Palm Beach Gardens at 561-694-0070, or at any of the firm’s numerous other offices statewide.