How Long Do I Have to File a Defamation Lawsuit in Florida?

The Florida defamation statute of limitations sets a strict time limit on your right to have the state's civil court system consider your libel or slander lawsuit.

If you're thinking about bringing a defamation case in Florida's civil court system, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of lawsuits. Read on for the details on the filing deadline in Florida, why it's so important, and when the deadline might be extended.

Two Years is the Standard Deadline for Filing a Defamation Lawsuit in Florida

You have two years to file a defamation lawsuit in Florida, according to Florida Statutes section 95.11, which sets this deadline for the filing of any civil action seeking a remedy for any act of "libel or slander" (more on the difference between these two types of defamation in a moment).

For purposes of Florida's defamation statute of limitations, the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. If the statement is later repeated, copied, or republished verbatim and in the same manner, the two-year clock probably won't reset, and the plaintiff likely won't be entitled to bring another lawsuit. What usually matters is the date on which the defamatory statement was first made or first published, for purposes of the running of the statute of limitations, and for purposes of asking a court for defamation damages.

In Florida, as in most states, defamation can take the form of either:

  • libel, which is a defamatory statement that is written down, or published in print or online (including via social media or even in the "comments" section of a web page); or
  • slander, which is a defamatory statement that is spoken (and not memorialized in writing or via any other medium).

Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim and the difference between libel versus slander.

Extending Florida’s Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

Florida law identifies a number of scenarios that could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the two-year filing deadline set by Florida Statutes section 95.11.

Here are a few examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the timeline:

  • if the defendant (the person who made the statement) was (or is) out of the state for any part of the two-year period, starting from the date on which the statement was made
  • if the defendant conceals him/herself within the state, or uses a false name, so that service of the lawsuit isn't possible, and
  • if the plaintiff (the subject of the defamatory statement) is a minor or has been declared legally incompetent at the time the statement was made.
Other exceptions may also apply to extend the Florida deadline, but they're too complex to cover in this article. (You can see them all listed at Florida Statutes section 95.051.)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than two years have passed since the defamatory statement was first made, and no exception applies to extend the statute of limitations deadline, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in Florida's courts anyway, it's a near-certainty that the court will summarily dismiss your case. If that happens, you’'ll have lost your right to ask any court for a legal remedy for the defamation, no matter how much harm it may have caused you.

It's important to note that the two-year Florida statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your defamation case to court. It’s also crucial to your position if you’re negotiating an out-of-court settlement with the person who made/published the statement. If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows that your filing a lawsuit is now a procedural impossibility, you'll have lost all your leverage.

If you have questions about how Florida’s statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit -- especially if the two-year deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Florida attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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