Florida Defamation Lawsuits: What are The Defenses to Libel and Slander Claims Seeking Damages Under Florida Law?

Posted By on May 7, 2013

Last Update: 01/27/16

When considering whether or not to file a lawsuit for defamation in the State of Florida, careful consideration must be made about (1) the testimony and documents available to prove the claim under state law, (2) the evidence to prove the damages being sought, as well as (3) the defenses that might be asserted once the case is filed.

If the other side has a strong defense, then careful analysis must be made before anything is filed in the courthouse.  In the balance, should the case be filed?  Viewing a defamation case from the other side: if you have been sued, then in the balance, do you have legal defenses strong enough to win at trial?

Defenses to Defamation

There are several defenses to a lawsuit filed in Florida courts for defamation (libel or slander).  These include:

1.  Missing the Deadline to File the Lawsuit Bars the Claim

No one has an unlimited amount of time to file a civil action for damages; state legislatures pass laws that set time deadlines for claims to be filed as lawsuits, for among other reasons, to make sure that witness’s memories will be reasonably fresh and pertinent paperwork will be available.

These laws are called “statutes of limitations.”

The Florida Statute of Limitations for filing a civil lawsuit seeking damages for defamation sets the deadline for filing a defamation lawsuit in Florida at two (2) years. See, Florida Statute 95.11(4)(g).

If the party seeking to file a defamation lawsuit in Florida files the case after this time period has passed, it does not matter how formidable the evidence may be — or how horrid the defamation itself:  the limitations deadline will absolutely BAR the claim.

Read: How To Recover Emotional Distress Damages Without a Physical Injury in Florida

2.  Truth is an Absolute Defense?

The United States Supreme Court set this defense in stone decades ago: truth is a defense to a libel or slander action in the landmark case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 US 254 (1964).  This means that the plaintiff needs to have a strong set of facts to establish libel or slander with evidence of the defamatory statements and proof that these statements are substantially false.

However, they need not be 100% false: the courts have created the “substantial truth doctrine” in defamation lawsuits to explain the amount of evidence needed to defend against a defamation case, as well as to prove one.  The “substantial truth doctrine” states that if the “gist” of the statement at issue is true, then that will be enough to defend against a defamation claim for damages.  See, Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 501 U.S. 496, 517 (1991).

3.  Anti-SLAPP Laws

Across the country, state legislatures have passed laws to protect people from lawsuits that are filed with the intent to thwart someone exercising their free speech – even when the plaintiff knows that the case is not winnable in the long run.  There are times when the strategy of burdening a person or an organization with a cumbersome and expensive defamation lawsuit seems smart because it can distract or financially drain them from public outcry or public criticism.  These are known as bars against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or “anti-SLAPP” statutes.

These are not the only defenses that may be asserted in a defamation case; however, these are three of the most common arguments made against a defamation claim.  Each case is different, and damages in libel and slander actions can be high.  Parties on each side of a defamation case must move forward with care.

What Should You Do?

A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by defamation, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.


What type of damages can I recover in a defamation claim?




Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.



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6 Responses to “Florida Defamation Lawsuits: What are The Defenses to Libel and Slander Claims Seeking Damages Under Florida Law?”

  1. sharon says:

    When suing a governmental agency for slander per se, does the obligatory 180 wait after filing the Notice of Claim count against the two year statute of limitations?

  2. Lizzy says:

    If someone filed multiple false domestic violence injunctions and stalking yet they were immediately denied/dismissed is this proof of defamation? I have never talked to this person or know where they live , certainly never committed violence. But these entries are still public record on the courts website. Being a government employee and involved in a nonprofit I feel these entries of record could be damaging to my character and profession. Advice?

  3. william donahoo says:

    On 1 /2 /14 William ….

  4. HK says:

    So, what you are saying is that if someone utters words of truth against an individual and his business practice that doesn’t construe as libel and slander?

  5. Alan Sackrin says:

    Hello Debra,
    Sorry to have missed your call. We cannot answer personal comments here on the blog, but hope to speak with you soon over the phone.

  6. Debra Scott says:

    Good Evening,

    I called your office about 6:47 pm ….