Last Update: 01/27/16
You’re in South Florida and someone has given you, your product, your service, or your company a bad review. Online, where theoretically the entire world can read their opinion since this is, after all, the World Wide Web.
Negative reviews can hurt people. Bad reviews can hurt business.
As one writer on Jezebel.com points out, for instance, people do take the time to read those One Star (negative) reviews on review sites. People do “Google” other people online for all sorts of reasons, and a negative blog post may well pop up in those search results.
So can you sue for a bad review? Yes.
Lawsuits for defamation are being filed more and more all across the country. Consider these examples:
- Two women who wrote negative reviews about a local Oregon church on their blog were sued for defamation last year. The plaintiff, as Pastor of the Grace Bible Church, sought $500,000 in damages for defamation.
- A tenured Kansas State University professor wrote a blog post with negative reviews of a publishing company and two years later, the professor and his employer were sued by that publishing company for defamation; the plaintiff asked for $4,000,000+ in libel damages.
- A Virginia woman who was very unhappy with the work done by a local contractor wrote a negative review of the contractor on the online review site Yelp.com and was sued by the contractor for defamation in a Virginia court for $750,000 in defamation damages.
What is defamation?
In Florida, there are situations where negative statements said (slander) or written (libel) about someone will constitute a crime; these situations of defamation are defined in Florida Statutes Title XVI, Chapter 836, entitled “DEFAMATION; LIBEL; THREATENING LETTERS AND SIMILAR OFFENSES.”
However, in Florida and in most states, many defamation cases are filed under the state common law, where courts have defined what constitutes civil defamation worthy of a damages award. It’s basically a negligence case here if a private person is involved and it’s more of a gross negligence situation when a public figure has been the subject of a negative review.
The elements of defamation as defined by Florida Supreme Court (Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, 997 So. 2d 1098, 1106 (Fla. 2008)) are:
- actor must act with knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity on a matter concerning a public [figure], or at least negligently on a matter concerning a private person;
- actual damages; and
- statement must be defamatory.
These are the legal issues that the plaintiff must prove in order to show that the defendant has defamed him or her, and that the defendant is liable to the plaintiff for defamation. Damages must then be established by admissible evidence, unless the situation meets the standards of defamation per se.
Winning Florida defamation awards can include not only actual damages but compensatory and punitive damages, as well.
Many Things to Consider Before Filing a Defamation Lawsuit
There are nuances. For instances, in some states a cause of action may be based upon issues of privacy and claims based upon invasion of privacy by placing someone in a false light. Florida does not recognize this basis, see the Florida Supreme Court’s 2008 opinion in Jews for Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp for the court’s reasoning. Other states do.
Additionally, there’s no law that limits a defamed plaintiff to one cause of action, and plaintiffs can sue for defamation along with asserting other things like intentional infliction of emotional distress, depending upon what the state law provides.
Your lawsuit may be more than a straight-up defamation case. However, it may be less, too.
- Defenses to the claims may exist under state or federal law.
- Evidence standards must be met: you must have admissible evidence to present at trial and it must meet the appropriate burdens of proof.
There are many things to weigh in a person’s decision to sue for negative statements that have been written or said about them by a third party.
Bottom line: if you have been the target of a bad review, then you may have the basis for a lawsuit – and if you win, then the available damages in Florida (other states are different) can include punitive damages. Each fact situation is different, and there are various defenses to consider before filing suit down at the courthouse.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by defamation, is to at least 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.
- Florida Defamation Lawsuits: What are The Defenses to Libel and Slander Claims Seeking Damages Under Florida Law?
- Can You Be Sued for an Anonymous Review? Yes. Will They Win? Maybe, Maybe Not.
- Defamation Per Se: When Libel or Slander Is So Bad, Do You Need Evidence of Damages Before Punitive Damages Can Be Awarded?
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.