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Legal Memorandum: Damages in a Defamation Action in FL

Issue: What damages are available in a Florida defamation case?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Compensatory damages; Defamation case
Jurisdiction: Florida
Cited Cases: 418 U.S. 323; 431 So. 2d 627; 458 So. 2d 239; 334 So. 2d 164; 546 So. 2d 410; 423 So. 2d 376
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 06/01/2006

Under Florida law, there are two classes of compensatory damages in a defamation action:  general and special.  Bobenhausen v. Cassat Avenue Mobile Homes, 344 So. 2d 279 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1977).  General damages are those that the law presumes necessarily result, proximately and necessarily, from the defamation, and are allowed whenever the immediate result of the defamatory publication is to impair the plaintiff’s reputation.  Id. at 281.  This is the case even when the plaintiff demonstrates no pecuniary loss.  Id.  When the plaintiff states a claim based on words that are actionable in themselves, general damages necessarily result and do not need to be pleaded or proven.  Id.  Moreover, malice is presumed.  Id.  See Miami Herald Publ’g Co. v. Ane, 423 So. 2d 376, 390 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1982) (a defamatory statement falsely accusing the plaintiff of a crime is per se actionable, without proof of special damages) approved, 458 So. 2d 239 (Fla. 1984).

In contrast, special damages must be specially pleaded, because they “do not result by implication of law from a wrongful publication.”  Bobenhausen, 344 So. 2d at 281.  The plaintiff must prove that the “special damages proximately resulted from the defamation.”  Id.

In a defamation action, the plaintiff may recover damages for predominately emotional damages including personal humiliation, mental anguish, and mental suffering.  S. Baptist Hosp. of Fla. v. Welker, 908 So. 2d 317, 320, 30 Fla. L. Weekly S259 (Fla. 2005); Boyles […]

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