Are you a Florida business owner and are fearful your employee may be engaging in defamation? Please call the firm at 407-437-0319 to speak to an experienced business law and defamation attorney. We understand that this is serious and may be affecting your business, do not hesitate to call us for a consultation today.
Business owners who face business defamation experience potential decrease in profits due to a decrease in customer loyalty which can prove severe financial loss. Rak Law Firm can help you
What Is Defamation?
Defamation in Florida refers to the act of making false statements about someone that can harm their reputation. Defamation can take the form of slander and libel. Fla. Stat. Ch. 770.
What Is Slander?
Slander is spoken or oral defamation. This occurs when false statements are communicated verbally, such as in conversation, speeches, or broadcasts which harm a person or company’s reputation.
What Is Libel?
Libel is written or printed defamation. This occurs when false statements are communicated in a permanent form, such as in written documents, emails, social media posts, or published articles which may harm a person or company’s reputation. Fla. Stat. §836.01.
Legal Aspects of Defamation and First Amendment
Florida courts have decided to set a higher standard of proof for defamation plaintiffs over time due to the Constitution First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech. Mastandrea v. Snow, 333 So. 3d 326 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2022). But how do I know I can make a claim for defamation?
Business defamation claims can be complex as they require a detail-orientated approach. Be careful not to mistake negative opinions with false statements, they are distinct. Legally, opinions are not necessarily legally actionable as defamation, even if the cause damage to your business or its reputation.
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it doesn’t necessary grant immunity for defamatory statements.
Someone Posted False Statements About Me on Facebook. Is That Defamation?
Yes. If someone made false statements about you and published them online such as in a Facebook post and you suffered injury, that is defamation.
What About if False Statements Were Sent Through Private Message on Facebook, Is That Also Defamation?
Yes. Even if false statements or false accusations were distributed through private message or chat and caused provable damages, it is also defamation.
Someone Posted a Negative Opinion About My Business on Facebook. Is That Defamation?
No. The distinction to be made here, from above, is that someone expressing their opinion, no matter how unflattering is not necessarily defamation. For example, “I think ABC Coffee House is stupid and their service is awful,” is an opinion compared to “ABC Coffee House underpays employees and their servers steal from customers,” this is defamation if the statement is false.
Just adding “I think” or “I believe” does not make something an opinion only and not defamation, if the person making the defamatory statement knows what they are saying is false, it can be defamation. Knowing the distinction is crucial.
How Do I Know if an Employee Is Making Defamatory Statements?
As an employer, determining whether an employee is engaging in defamation involves gathering evidence and evaluate the following elements:
- Collect any written or recorded statements made by the employee that contains false statements about your business.
- Document any instances where the employee made false statements to others about your business.
- Gather any supporting evidence or information that shows harm caused to your brand’s reputation as a result of the employee’s false statements.
Elements to Defamation in Florida:
- False Statement: The statement made about you or your business must be false. Opinions and subjective statements generally do not qualify as defamation, as they may be protected under the First Amendment.
- Publication: The false statement must be communicated to at least one person besides yourself or your business. It could be spoken, written or published in some form.
- Injury: The false statement must have caused harm to your reputation or brand’s reputation, resulting in measurable damages. This harm may be in the form of damage to your personal or professional life, financial losses or emotional distress.
Can I Sue a Company for Defamation in Florida?
Yes. A claim for defamation can be filed against a company or an individual; it must be filed against the person responsible for the libel or slander. Businesses have the same rights to sue for defamation as individuals do. Additionally, businesses can make specialized claims for damages or relief that may not be available to individuals.
Florida Defamation Statute of Limitations
If a defamatory statement is continuously published or “added onto,” the statute of limitations is not tolled or paused; however, a new publication will start a new two-year limitation period. See Swedberg v. Goldfinger’s South, Inc., 338 So. 3d 332 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2022). In Swedberg, two Facebook advertisements were posted on Facebook using identical images, yet the court found that the second advertisement constituted a new publication from the first and thus started a new two-year statute of limitations period from the initial advertisement posted.
Can The Florida Defamation Two-Year Statute of Limitations Period Be Extended?
Florida defamation lawsuits have a two year time limitation pursuant to Fla. Stat. §95.11(4)(g); however, there are several instances where Florida law may toll, or pause this limitation clock.
The limitation period may pause when the Defendant:
- Is absent from the state. Fla. Stat. §95.051(1)(a).
- Uses a false name to avoid being served with suit. Fla. Stat. §95.051(1)(b).
- Hides within the state to avoid suit. Fla Stat. §95.051(1)(c).
The limitation period may pause if the Plaintiff:
- Was a minor when the defamatory statement was made, but only if no parent or guardian can sue on Plaintiff’s behalf. This tolling period lasts until the minor’s eighteenth birthday or seven years from the date of the declaratory statement. Fla. Stat. §95.051(1)(i).
Florida Defamation Pre-Suit Notice Requirement
If you are wanting to sue “for a publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium,” you must give notice to the publisher or broadcaster within five days of filing suit. Fla. Stat. §770.01.
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