Florida Defamation Laws and Lawsuits

Learn about the basics of Florida defamation law, including how long you have to file a defamation lawsuit in court.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Think you've got a Florida defamation claim? If so, you need to know the deadline to file your defamation lawsuit in court. We'll explain that deadline—called a "statute of limitations"—along with some of the basics of Florida defamation law.

Elements of a Florida Defamation Claim

Defamation is a false statement, written or spoken, that harms another person's reputation. If the defamation is written, it's called libel. Spoken defamation is called slander. (Learn more about libel and slander cases.)

To succeed with a defamation claim under Florida law, you must prove that the defendant (the writer or speaker you claim defamed you):

  • made a false statement of fact about you to a third party (someone other than you)
  • had the required state of mind when making the statement, and
  • by making the false statement, caused harm to your reputation.

False Statement of Fact to a Third Party

As a rule, only false statements of fact can be defamatory. Stated a bit differently, opinions aren't defamatory because they can't be proven false. Consider these two statements:

  • "Jones is the worst mayor we've ever elected."
  • "Jones is the worst mayor we've ever elected because he's taken bribes from several businesses."

The first statement isn't defamatory because it's purely an opinion. But what about the second statement? It's a mix of opinion ("worst mayor we've ever elected") and fact ("he's taken bribes"). The opinion still isn't defamatory. But the claim about bribery, if untrue, would be defamatory.

Finally, the statement must be "published," meaning it must be made to a third party. If you're the only one who hears it, the false statement hasn't been published to a third party. What if the statement is made to you but someone else accidentally overhears it? In all likelihood, there's been no publication to a third party, meaning your defamation claim would fail.

The Required State of Mind

If you're a public official or a public figure like a celebrity or a famous athlete, you must prove the defendant made the false statement with "actual malice." Actual malice is very hard to show, requiring clear and convincing proof that the defendant made the statement:

  • knowing it was false, or
  • recklessly, while having significant doubts about whether it was true.

If you're a private figure, your task is much easier. You need only prove that the defendant made the false statement negligently (carelessly).

Caused Harm to Your Reputation

The essence of defamation is harm to your reputation. So how do you prove reputational harm? In cases of defamation per se, the law presumes that your reputation was injured by the false statement. But most cases involve what's known as defamation per quod, requiring proof of harm to your reputation.

Defamation Per Se

A false statement of fact that causes obvious harm to a person's reputation is defamatory per se. Florida law recognizes as per se defamatory a false claim that:

  • you have a loathsome disease, like AIDS
  • you committed certain felonies
  • you've engaged in conduct or possess a characteristic that's fundamentally incompatible with your business, profession, or office
  • you're an unchaste woman, or a woman who's engaged in illicit or extramarital sexual activity, or
  • subjects you to hatred, ridicule, or distrust.

Defamation Per Quod

In a defamation per quod case, you don't get the benefit of any presumed injury. Instead, you must prove that your reputation actually was harmed by a false statement.

Damages You Can Collect

In both per se and per quod defamation cases, you're allowed to collect damages for your "economic" and "noneconomic" injuries.

Economic injuries generally involve out-of-pocket losses for medical bills, lost wages, and the like. For example, if defamatory statements got you fired from your job and you've not found new work, you can recover your lost wages and benefits.

Noneconomic harms include such things as emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. While more difficult to quantify in dollars, these harms can also be compensated. A lawyer who's experienced in defamation claims can help you put a value on these injuries.

Finally, in rare cases—those involving extreme, outrageous, or reckless behavior—you might be able to collect punitive damages. Note that as a general rule, Florida law caps punitive damages at the higher of three times your compensatory damages (your economic and noneconomic damages, combined) or $500,000. (Fla. Stat. § 768.73(1)(a) (2023).)

Because defamation per se causes obvious reputational harm, in some cases Florida law might award you "presumed" damages. Presumed damages typically are nominal—$1 or $100, for instance—and can be awarded even if you can't prove any economic or noneconomic losses. Presumed damages aren't available if you're suing a media defendant. (See Mid-Florida Television Co. v. Boyles, 467 So.2d 282 (Fla. 1985).)

(Learn more about damages in a defamation case.)

Defenses to Defamation Liability

Under Florida law, there are several privileges and defenses that might shield the defendant from liability for your defamation claim. Here are some (but not all) of them.


The old saying that "truth is a defense" is correct. Generally speaking, a true statement, no matter how mean or malicious, isn't defamatory.


Consent is also a defense to liability. If you consent to the publication of defamatory statements, you can't later change your mind and decide to sue.

Fair Comment and Opinion

An opinion—a statement that can't be proved false—isn't defamatory. Likewise, satire, parody, and sarcasm are protected because they don't involve statements that are meant to be believed as true. Speakers are allowed to comment on matters of public concern or public interest, even if the commentary is sharp or critical.


A publisher or broadcaster's liability is limited to actual (not punitive) damages if:

  • "an article or broadcast was published in good faith"
  • "its falsity was due to an honest mistake of the facts"
  • "there were reasonable grounds for believing" the statements to be true, and
  • a full and fair correction, apology, or retraction was timely published.

(Fla. Stat. § 770.02 (2023).)

Absolute Privilege

In limited circumstances, speakers are absolutely privileged to speak without fear of defamation liability. As a general rule, absolute privilege shields statements made:

  • by participants in judicial, legislative, or administrative proceedings, and
  • by executive officers in the performance of their official government duties.

What's the Florida Defamation Statute of Limitations?

You have two years to file a Florida defamation lawsuit. (Fla. Stat. § 95.11(4)(g) (2023).)

When Does the Statute of Limitations Begin to Run?

The two-year statute of limitations begins to run on the date that a defamatory statement is first published. (Fla. Stat. § 770.07 (2023).) The limitation period isn't "tolled" (paused) or extended because a defamatory statement is continuously published. But a new or distinct publication will start a new two-year limitation period. (See Swedberg v. Goldfinger's South, Inc., 338 So.3d 332 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2022) (second Facebook ad using same image as first Facebook ad constitutes a separate publication and starts new statute of limitations period).)

Pre-Lawsuit Notice Requirement

There's a notice requirement for some Florida defamation lawsuits. If you're suing "for publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium," then at least five days before filing suit, you must notify the publisher or broadcaster. Your notice must specify "the article or broadcast and the statements therein which [you allege] to be false and defamatory." (Fla. Stat. § 770.01 (2023).)

Can Florida's Two-Year Limitation Period Be Extended?

Florida law tolls the two-year statute of limitations clock, effectively extending the filing deadline, in several situations. Here are a few of the most common. The limitation period is paused when the defendant:

Note that these exceptions don't apply "if service of process or service by publication can be made in a manner sufficient to [give the court authority] to grant the relief sought." (Fla. Stat. § 95.051(1) (2023).)

In addition, the limitation period is tolled if the plaintiff (the person defamed) was a minor when the statement was made, but only if there's no parent or guardian who can sue on the plaintiff's behalf. This tolling period lasts until the sooner of:

  • the minor's 18th birthday, or
  • seven years from the date of the defamatory statement.

(Fla. Stat. § 95.051(1)(i) (2023).)

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If you don't file your defamation lawsuit within the two-year limitation period and there's no way to extend the deadline, you've lost the right to sue, forever. If you try to file your case after the deadline has passed, the court will have no choice but to dismiss it.

If you have questions about how Florida's statute of limitations applies to your defamation lawsuit—especially if the two-year deadline has passed or is looming—you should discuss your situation with an experienced Florida attorney as quickly as possible

Where Do I File a Florida Defamation Lawsuit?

You must file a Florida defamation lawsuit in:

  • the proper court, and
  • the proper location.

The Proper Court

The court where you should file your defamation lawsuit depends on how much in damages you're asking the court to award. If you ask for damages of $50,000 or less, you can file your case in the county court. If you're seeking more than $50,000 in damages, you must file suit in the circuit court.

The Proper Location

You must file your lawsuit in a court that's in the proper location (called "venue"). If the defendant is a Florida resident or a Florida corporation, you can file your case in the county where the defendant lives, where the corporation has an office to transact business, or where the defamatory statement was published. (Fla. Stat. §§ 47.011, 47.051 (2023).)

Is It Hard to Win a Florida Defamation Lawsuit?

In many cases, yes. While each case depends on its own facts, in general, here are the biggest difficulties.

Proving Actual Malice If You're a Public Figure

If you're a public official or a public figure, you've got to prove actual malice to win your case. To carry this burden of proof, you must prove the actual, subjective state of mind of the defendant at the time the statements were made, and you must prove it by "clear and convincing" evidence.

A defendant isn't likely to admit that they knew when they made a statement that it was false, or that there were serious questions about its truthfulness. You'll have to rely on other, circumstantial evidence to prove the required state of mind. That's a tall order.

Proving Actual Damages If You're a Private Figure

If you're not a public figure it can be difficult to prove the actual damages you claim to have suffered. If you've lost your job or can prove other economic damages as a result of defamatory statements about you, you have the proof you need. Otherwise, the court might be concerned that your damages are too speculative or uncertain.

How Much Is a Florida Defamation Case Worth?

There's no way to say that an "average" Florida defamation case is worth a specific amount. Defamation claims are heavily fact-based. There are examples of sizeable Florida damage verdicts, including:

  • Destefano v. Adventist Health System Sunbelt, 973 So.2d 492 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007) ($1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for defamatory statements claiming plaintiff engaged in sexual conduct with his mother), and
  • Lipsig v. Ramlawi, 760 So.2d 170 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2000) ($175,000 compensatory and $525,000 punitive damages against each defendant for calling plaintiff, among other things, a "crook," an "embezzler," and a "thief;" punitive damages ordered reduced on appeal).

But don't count on a big money outcome in your defamation case unless you've got proof of big damages. If you want to know what your defamation case might be worth, contact an experienced Florida defamation attorney.

Is Defamation a Crime in Florida?

Perhaps, yes. Florida law punishes as a first-degree misdemeanor:

  • publication of a libel (Fla. Stat. § 836.01 (2023))
  • "falsely and maliciously imputing to [any woman] a want of chastity" (Fla. Stat. § 836.04 (2023)), or
  • under certain circumstances, publishing written material that "tends to expose any individual or any religious group to hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy… ." (Fla. Stat. § 836.11(1) (2023).)

In addition, it's a second-degree misdemeanor to make or deliver a "false and libelous statement" to a newspaper, periodical, editor, or reporter. (Fla. Stat. § 836.09 (2023).)

These laws are all quite old and it isn't clear that Florida prosecutors try to enforce them. Given the present state of American defamation (and constitutional) law, any attempted prosecution would be met with significant constitutional challenges.

Next Steps

Because defamation law seeks to balance interests in free speech and freedom from reputational injury, libel and slander cases are often difficult to win. If you think you've been defamed, your best bet will be to consult with an experienced defamation lawyer.

Here's how to find a Florida attorney who's right for you and your case.

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