Skip to Content
Menu Toggle

What is defamation?

Everybody can speak freely about their opinions. However, publicly speaking one’s opinions can sometimes lead to legal problems if that speech injures another. Defamation is a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual or business. Defamatory statements can be libel (written or published) or slander (spoken). Defamation laws protect people from the actual harm that untrue statements can cause while still allowing people to speak freely about important topics.

For example, suppose a local business customer wrote a blog post accusing the owner of embezzling money from her company. Here, the owner would have to show that the customer’s statement is false and that it caused her financial harm or damage to her reputation, such as by offering evidence of financial losses after the blog’s publication or accusatory statements about one’s occupation.

The bright side, however, is that the law provides a remedy for defamation in Florida.

Need help with a potential defamation claim? Schedule your consultation today with a top business litigation attorney.

What legal issues typically arise related to defamation?

The following disputes are among the most common to defamation:

  • Differentiating statements of opinion from fact: In the United States, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which includes the right to express opinions. To succeed in the defamation claim, the plaintiff must prove the statement was not an opinion but was one of fact that can be proven false.
  • Proving falsity: Statements are defamatory only if they are false. If the claimant cannot prove falsity, or there are disputed interpretations of the statement, getting a favorable outcome in the case could be challenging.
  • Proving damages: Examples of injuries that can lead to remedies include losing one’s job or business, making getting employment more difficult, or suffering reputational damage.

What are relevant laws related to defamation in Florida?

The relevant Florida Statutes related to defamation include the following:

  • Section 770.01 – A person who intends to file a defamation claim must first provide written notice to the defendant.
  • Subsection 95.11(4)(g) – The statute of limitations for defamation in Florida is two years.
  • Section 770.07 – The statute of limitations begins when the first defamatory statement is published or spoken, even if others follow months or years later.
  • Section 770.02 – The statement’s retraction, apology, and correction can limit the plaintiff’s cause of action.

Many of the specifics of defamation, when statements go from opinion to fact, come from Florida court cases. Within these cases, many successful cases of defamation arise after newspaper or television stories misinterpret facts and name the plaintiff unflatteringly.

What is required to prove a case of defamation in Florida?

To state a claim for defamation in Florida, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant published or said a false statement; (2) about the plaintiff; (3) to a third party; and (4) the falsity of this statement caused injury to the plaintiff. The resulting injury can be to one’s reputation or financial harm.

When a set of facts is appropriate to meet the requirements of defamation, there are many paths a claimant may take. We are value-based attorneys at Jimerson Birr, which means we look at each action with our clients from the point of view of costs and benefits while reducing liability. Then, based on our client’s objectives, we chart a path forward to seek appropriate remedies, such as:

  • Compensatory Damages
  • Punitive Damages
  • Injunction

To see what actions may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

What are common defenses to defamation in Florida?

The primary defenses to defamation in Florida include:

  • Truth: If the statement that is the subject of the defamation claim is true, it cannot be considered defamatory.
  • Privilege: Statements made during judicial or legislative proceedings, or statements made by government officials or employees during their official duties, are privileged and cannot be the basis for a defamation claim.
  • Lack of damages: Even if the statement is defamatory, if the plaintiff cannot prove they suffered actual injuries due to the statement, they might not be able to recover monetary damages.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant may argue that the statute of limitations, which, in Florida, is two years from the date of the alleged defamation, bars the plaintiff’s claim.
  • Fair comment and criticism: Statements made on matters of public interest or concern, such as statements about public figures or issues, may be protected as fair comment and criticism. Courts must balance defamation laws against the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech, which extends to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. For example, statements made during public debate on matters of public concern may have First Amendment protections.
  • Retraction: If the defendant retracts, corrects, or apologizes for making the statement within a reasonable amount of time, the amount of damages the plaintiff can recover is limited.

One core strategy when defending against a defamation claim in Florida is to focus on alleging that the statement was one of opinion. Positioning a view as an opinion involves focusing on the statement’s language and context. Evidence, including witness testimony and documents, could demonstrate that the ideas were opinions, not facts.

To see what defenses may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

Have more questions about a defamation-related situation?

Crucially, this overview of defamation does not begin to cover all the laws implicated by this issue or the factors that may compel the application of such laws. Every case is unique, and the laws can produce different outcomes depending on the individual circumstances.

Jimerson Birr attorneys guide our clients to help make informed decisions while ensuring their rights are respected and protected. Our lawyers are highly trained and experienced in the nuances of the law, so they can accurately interpret statutes and case law and holistically prepare individuals or companies for their legal endeavors. Through this intense personal investment and advocacy, our lawyers will help resolve the issue’s complicated legal problems efficiently and effectively.

Having a Jimerson Birr attorney on your side means securing a team of seasoned, multi-dimensional, cross-functional legal professionals. Whether it is a transaction, an operational issue, a regulatory challenge, or a contested legal predicament that may require court intervention, we remain a tireless advocate every step of the way. Being a value-added law firm means putting the client at the forefront of everything we do. We use our experience to help our clients navigate even the most complex problems and come out the other side triumphant.

If you want to understand your case, the merits of your claim or defense, potential monetary awards, or the amount of exposure you face, you should speak with a qualified Jimerson Birr lawyer. Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Call Jimerson Birr at (904) 389-0050 or use the contact form to set up a consultation.

Jimerson Customer Service

We live by our 7 Superior Service Commitments

  • Conferring Client-Defined Value
  • Efficient and Cost-Effective
  • Accessibility
  • Delivering an Experience While Delivering Results
  • Meaningful and Enduring Partnership
  • Exceptional Communication Based Upon Listening
  • Accountability to Goals
Learn more
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
we’re here to help

Contact Us

Jimerson Birr