Legal Memorandum: Elements of a Defamation Claim

Issue: What are the elements of a defamation cause of action?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Claim for defamation; Negligence; Special harm
Jurisdiction: Florida
Cited Cases: 745 So. 2d 386
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 602
Date: 06/01/2006

The elements of a claim for defamation are (1) a false and defamatory statement about another; (2) publication, that is not privileged, to a third party; (3) fault on the part of the publisher that amounts to at least negligence; and (4) special harm, or actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm.  Razner v. Wellington Reg’l Med. Ctr., Inc., 837 So. 2d 437, 442, 27 Fla. L. Weekly D2522 (Dist. Ct. App. 2002); Thomas, 699 So. 2d at 803-04.  Accord Linafelt v. Beverly Enters.—Fla., Inc., 745 So. 2d 386, 388, 24 Fla. L. Weekly D2363 (Dist. Ct. App. 1999).  “A defamatory statement is one that tends to harm someone’s reputation in the community or deters others from associating with the person.”  Id. at 388-89.  When the cause of action is based on an oral statement, the plaintiff need not set out verbatim the defamatory language, but must only set out the substance of the words spoken with particularity sufficient for the court to determine whether the publication was defamatory.  Razner, 837 So. 2d at 442.*FN1


*FN1 The facts do not set out what the false statement was, but state that an employee said that it was “common knowledge” among hospital employees that Plaintiff had been fired for buying amphetamines over the Internet.  For purposes of this memo, it is assumed that hospital employees were told that Plaintiff had been discharged […]

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