Last week, we covered some helpful information about suing for slander, today, to complement that post, we’re going to cover the topic of suing for libel. While slander and libel are often lumped together under the heading of “defamation”, there are some differences between the two and how they are handled in the court system.
Suing for Libel in the State of Florida
Since Weidner Law is located in St Petes, Florida, it’s important firstly to note that the information provided within this article is pertinent to suing for libel in Florida only.
So, what is the difference when suing for slander versus suing for libel? Let’s take a closer look…
The Definition of Libel
This is a topic we have covered before, but for the sake of a concise article let’s do a quick recap on the definition of libel.
When we are talking about libel and slander in general, libel refers to the process of publishing a false statement about another person or entity that is considered to be detrimental to the person or entity referenced where slander refers to the spoken word rather than the written word.
Libel in the State of Florida
The particular laws pertaining to slander and libel vary based on which state you reside in. In the state of Florida, slander and libel are grouped under defamation statutes.
Criminal Defamation in the State of Florida
In the state of Florida, we are somewhat unusual in that we are one of the few states that still have criminal defamation laws on the books where many other states no longer have criminal defamation statutes. What does that mean for you? It means that where in other states you can sue someone in a civil suit for defamation, in the state of Florida, you can also sue someone in a criminal suit for defamation. Of course, in both of these instances, defamation must have taken place.
Not all states have criminal statutes against defamation because federal law has proven such laws to be constitutionally vague in previous cases so many states have followed suit. To date, Florida has not.
Requirements for Making a Defamation Claim
To bring a charge of defamation against an individual in Florida, you must be able to prove that the defendant negligently published a false statement about you to a third party and that the falsity of the statement “caused injury to the plaintiff.”
However, it’s important to note that when defamatory statements are made in good faith and the publication is later retracted or corrected to reflect true statements, you are may not bring criminal proceedings against them.
Absolute and Qualified Privilege
You should also be aware that libel does not extend to statements made under absolute privilege. Absolute privilege is the right to say something without the fear of defamation charges or other repercussions as a result of immunity granted to them by virtue of their position; for example by an attorney who is interviewing possible witnesses for a case outside of the trial. Additionally, in Florida, absolute privilege extends to cover all government officials in regard to the responsibilities or duties of their position.
Statements may also be protected under what is called “qualified privilege”. Statements made under qualified privilege do not have to be protected under absolute privilege. Qualified privilege is extended to statements made by individuals in a position of authority because it is their duty to make the information about the accused individual known. Qualified privilege is also extended to statements that are made in an effort to settle or negotiate a case before legal proceedings are begun.
The Punishment for Libel
When suing for libel in a criminal case in Florida, if you win your case, the defendant will be convicted of a misdemeanor in the first degree.
Fair Report Privilege
Another classification of statements that are protected under law from defamation rulings are those made under fair report privilege. Fair report privilege is given to anyone responsible for publishing reports that have been issued by official bodies in regard to official proceedings. The reason for this is because it is in the public interest to trust and rely on these official governmental reports so those who do so are not punished under the law.
Neutral report privilege or “neutral reportage” is a commonly used defense in cases of defamation when the statements being published involve news and media organizations that republish statements about public figures that have not been verified. This is referred to as neutral reporting because in their defense these republishers claim that they are simply reporting the situation in an unbiased way because it is in the public interest to be aware of the information published.
In the state of Florida individuals who make certain statements that are considered to be “statutory” are also granted immunity against defamation. There are a number of statutorily protected statement categories but a few of the most common include individuals who make good faith reports of child abuse, information provided in relation to a medical review committee, individuals who make communications in regard to unemployment compensation proceedings, and communications from an employer about a former employee to prospective employers.
Need Help Suing For Libel in Florida?
If you’re located in the state of Florida and you need the assistance of a consumer law attorney to represent you in your case when suing for libel, attorney Matt Weidner can help. To find out how Weidner Law can help you with your particular case, just pick up the phone and dial 727-954-8752 to arrange for a consultation today!