Libel law. Are you wondering whether you should pursue a case of libel but you’re not sure whether it’s something worth pursuing? Today we’re going to look at a few questions, answers, and scenarios that may help you to decide.
Libel Law: When Is It Libel?
You might remember that last week we talked about defamation, specifically the difference between libel and slander. If you’re still cloudy on the difference, here’s a quick recap…
Defamation is an intentionally false statement that damages someone’s reputation, decreases the confidence, regard, or respect in which a person is held, or incites hostile, disparaging, or disagreeable feelings or opinions against a person. Defamation can be referred to as libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation).
There are four important factors to know when talking about defamation:
- In order to be considered defamation, the statement MUST be made or published in the presence of a third party.
- In order to be considered defamation, the statement MUST be untrue AND injurious.
- In order to be considered defamation, the statement MUST NOT have been made under privilege (for example, in a courtroom).
- Opinions are generally NOT considered to be defamation because opinion cannot be proven true or untrue.
Libel Law: The Statute of Limitations on Defamation in Florida
In the state of Florida, the statute of limitations for defamation is two years. That means that in order to pursue a case of defamation, you must bring charges against the person you believe to have defamed you within two years of their doing so. If two years have passed, you will no longer be able to pursue a case of defamation.
Libel Law: Deciding Whether to Pursue Your Case
One of the most important things you need to consider before pursuing a defamation suit against someone is whether you should. There are a few factors to weigh when deciding the answer to this question.
Are you a public figure?
If you are a public figure you are going to have to work much harder to prove that what was written about you is libel because as a public figure you accept a position in which you are going to be publicly scrutinized. This means that not only must you prove a written statement to be false but you must also prove that the statement was written with complete disregard for whether or not it was true. Even if you can prove this, you have to also consider that pursuing a case also comes with other concerns. For example, pursuing a defamation suit may keep the issue in the spotlight for much longer than it would otherwise be. Do you want to keep this headline in the news or would you rather let it disappear on its own? You should also consider whether it’s worth the time and cost to file a suit for what you would gain in return. You also need to reflect on what pursuing a case might reveal about you. Just because you are pursuing a case against someone else for libel it does not mean that information you would rather keep private won’t come out during the case. Keep this in mind.
In general, there are two incidences where a public figure would want to pursue a libel case. Firstly, if defamation is a continuing pattern of behavior by the author, you may want to pursue your case to put an end to it once and for all. Secondly, if the story written about you is likely to trigger an avalanche of stories in other media outlets or by other people, you may want to pursue your case to stop this from happening.
If You’re Not a Public Figure…
If you’re not a public figure, some of the considerations mentioned above are still worth reviewing prior to filing a defamation case for libel.
If you do decide to pursue a case against someone for libel, however, the best thing you can do is to retain an attorney who can assist you with the filing process. Not only will a seasoned attorney be able to help you with filing the necessary paperwork, but they will also be able to help you to “make your case”.
Making Your Case
Remember, in order for your libel case to “hold water” you have to be able to make your case in a court of law. This means:
- Proving that what was said about you was written. If it wasn’t written, it wasn’t libel (but you can still pursue slander).
- Proving that what was written about you was viewed by a third party.
- Proving that what was written about you was false. If it’s true, it isn’t defamation.
- Proving that what was written about you was not just opinion.
- Proving that what was written about you caused you injury in some concrete way. Florida uses a “defamation per se” standard meaning that certain statements are automatically considered to be defamatory because they would obviously harm someone’s reputation.
- Proving any calculable damages if applicable. That is, being able to provide a dollar amount for calculable damages.
- Prove that what was written about you was not protected by absolute privilege. For example, when an individual in a position of authority is testifying in court, what they say is protected by absolute privilege and is not considered to be libelous even if it may otherwise be libelous when said by someone not covered by absolute privilege.
- Prove that what was written about you was not protected by qualified privilege. For example, an employer may be protected by qualified privilege when determining whether an employee is qualified to perform a new job because they are deemed qualified to make that decision based on their experience.
Are You Ready to Talk to an Attorney About Your Libel Case?
If you’re ready to talk to an attorney about your libel case, Weidner Law can help! Just pick up the phone and dial 727-954-8752 to make your appointment today!