The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech. However, that right only exists until it violates the rights of someone else. For instance, if someone makes statements that tarnish another person's reputation, it could be cause for civil litigation.
Making such statements either verbally (slander) or in writing (libel) that are published fall under the legal definition of "defamation." Of course, the court needs to weigh an individual's right to free speech against another individual's right to avoid defamatory statements. This makes lawsuits alleging defamation a challenge.
What do you need to prove in a lawsuit alleging defamation?
In general terms, you will need to show the court the following in order to prevail in a lawsuit alleging defamation:
- Someone made a statement that was written, spoken or expressed in some other manner.
- Someone published a statement about you that a third party read, heard or saw in some other manner. In this sense, the word "published" does not mean just in print. A defamatory statement could be written on your garage door or spoken on television and meet this requirement.
- The statement wasn't true. If the statement was true or an opinion, defamation did not occur. Only statements known to be untrue qualify under this element.
- The statement doesn't fall under some privilege. For example, when witnesses testify in court, they need the freedom to recall events without fearing repercussions for statements that appear defamatory.
- You suffered harm due to the false statement. You must show the court that the defamatory statement cost you business, money or some other applicable loss.
Depending on the circumstances, and who you are, you may also need to show that the person who made the statement intended to hurt you in some way ("actual malice").
Advice and guidance could prove invaluable
As a business owner, you more than likely rely on word of mouth to a certain extent to build your customer base and make your business a success. If someone makes false statements about you or your company, your business could suffer. If you fail to deal with defamation issues right away, you and your company could suffer irreparable damage.
Litigating these types of business torts often presents a challenge. If you prove your case for defamation, you may want to pursue both monetary and non-monetary remedies allowed by law. For instance, you may receive an award of monetary damages for lost business, and the court may order the person who made the statement to issue a public apology and retract the statement as well. If you intend to pursue such litigation, you may benefit from the assistance of a Florida attorney.