Virtually everyone has said something negative about someone else at some point during their lifetime. However, if your comment has had a significant effect on the person’s reputation or business, you could potentially be sued for defamation of character.
Defamation of character usually takes two forms:
Libel – this is defamation in writing, such as letters, emails, social media, webpages, posters, signs and newspapers. This is much easier to prove.
Slander – this is spoken defamation and requires audio evidence and/or witness statements to be proven.
Defamation law protects people from untrue, damaging statements. However, defamation law regularly traverses a fine line with other laws that protect freedom of speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This means that there is a delicate balance between protecting people from the effects of harmful statements, but also allowing people to speak freely without worrying about reprisals. This is particularly true when what needs to be said is in the interest of the general public.
Are you classed as a public figure?
Whether or not you have a case for defamation may depend on whether you are considered to be a private or public figure under Florida law. If you are famous, even just locally, or you work for the government, it is likely that a judge will treat you as a public figure.
In order to meet the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there are different circumstances for defamation cases surrounding people who are deemed to be public figures. Public officials and figures have a place in the public eye, and as such, are under regular if not constant scrutiny. With that said, statements made about a public figure are usually exempt from defamation cases, even if they are untrue or harmful. The only exception to this is if the plaintiff can prove that the statements were made with malice and specific intent to cause harm.
By comparison, in a defamation case with a private figure, the plaintiff only need to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.
Why you should hire an attorney for defamation
The law surrounding defamation is incredibly complex and filing a successful defamation case, especially if you are a public figure, can be difficult. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney will have in-depth understanding of the laws surrounding defamation of character. With our unique understanding of Florida defamation laws, we will be able to advise you if you have the necessary elements to file a claim, and if so, work with you to ensure that you have the best representation possible.
If you think that you may be the victim of defamation, or if someone is trying to bring a case of defamation against you, please call Frank Eidson today at 407-410-3579.