Defamation of Character: What it is and what can be done

What can I do if someone says or writes something bad about me?

Defamation of character is when someone communicates, either in
writing or verbally, to another person something false which harms the
person to whom the communication relates.

The Two Types of Defamation

If the communication is in writing, it is libel. If it is verbal, it is slander.

Damages Available

The damages vary according to the circumstances. There is damage
to reputation in general (this will not be worth much if you are a multiple
convicted felon), or special damages, which may be related to loss of job or
family, regardless of reputational damage.

What if I say something bad about someone or a business?

Well, it had better be true, and if necessary, you might have to prove
that you reasonably believed it was true. So you need to think before you
post something (e.g. on Facebook).

Don’t I have a First Amendment right to say what I think?

Only up to a point. E.g., you cannot yell fire in a cinema if there isn’t
one, you cannot incite people to riot. You don’t have a right to maliciously
communicate something that is not true.

There are, however, Certain Privileges

Statements made in Court under oath are protected against
defamation suits in order to encourage people to testify truthfully without
worrying about future retaliation.

A public figure, if making a statement within the scope of his job, are
immune absent a showing of having a malicious intent. The standard,
however, is raised, if a public figure makes a statement, in that it goes

beyond “reasonably believed to be true” to requiring fact-checking before

An ex-employer is also immune, absent malicious intent, to
communicate negative references, to encourage frank discussions in hiring

Do I need an attorney to represent me in my case, or can I do it myself?

In any legal matter, you can always do it yourself, but it may be like
bringing a knife to a gunfight if there is an experienced attorney on the
other side who is familiar with the law, and Florida law in particular.
There are many potential pitfalls which could lead to problems in a
particular defamation case. The question of whether a statement was true,
partially true or untrue, and the damages available, are known to an
attorney, but possibly not to you. A common misconception is regarding the
Statute of Limitations (i.e. the period of time after which a suit may not be
brought, no matter how much merit it may have). It is only 2 years in Florida