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Should Your Business Sue for Online Defamation?

Posted on in Defamation Online

Florida cyber lawyerBusiness owners are naturally sensitive to online defamation, that is, false and damaging statements made about their business online, whether published by a major media outlet, a blogger, or on a social media site.

The easiest response is to contact the offender directly and request that they reconsider and delete the offending material. Or simply post a rebuttal in a prominent place. In more serious cases, an attorney can send a cease and desist letter or even file a lawsuit seeking remedial action (e.g., retraction of defamatory material and possibly compensatory damages).

But is filing a lawsuit likely to result in a desirable outcome? It depends on the nature and extent of the statements made against you and your business, as well as the damages you’ve sustained.

Plaintiff Loses Lawsuit Claiming Defamation in Blog Posts

One recent Florida case suggests that defamation lawsuits be approached with caution, as a loss could cost you not only your own attorney fees but also the fees of the defendant which could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In March 2018, the United States Court of Appeals District Court for the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision in case number 16-16210, which originated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

In this case, the defendant (a physician) published a blog post in which he criticized the medical treatment practices of the plaintiff (another physician), stating that certain treatments were “unsupported by medical evidence” and calling the plaintiff’s business a “one-man institute” in Florida which is “a very quack-friendly state.” The plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming (1) false advertising under the federal Lanham Act, and (2) unfair competition, trade libel, libel per se, and tortious interference with business relationships under state laws. The court ruled that the blog post did not qualify as “commercial speech” and therefore the Lanham Act would not apply. As to the other claims, the court found that the disputed statements in the blog post did not rise to the level of false and damaging.

Ultimately, the court ruled entirely in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff’s appeals to higher courts failed. The plaintiff was finally ordered to pay the defendant $260,000 for attorney fees, and the Court of Appeals upheld this award.

Florida Court Supports Plaintiff, Case Moving Forward

In another Florida case (number 2016CA001517XXXXMB in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach County), the plaintiff physician filed a lawsuit claiming defamation under Florida law, arguing that a media company’s broadcast story, online article, and social media posts had greatly exaggerated his cardiac practice’s failures and severely damaged his professional reputation. The complaint stated that the plaintiff suffered loss of income and future opportunities was subjected to unwanted attention and persecution, and suffered both physically and emotionally. The suit asked for actual and presumed damages.

In 2017, the defendant media company sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that they had not acted with malice or with reckless disregard for accuracy.

The judge, however, ruled that headlines in the online article (shown next to a photo of the plaintiff physician) such as “mortality rate over three times the national average,” “babies as sacrificial lambs” and “a total mess with newborn babies” were, in fact, actionable statements. As of April 2018, the suit is ongoing.

As can be seen from these two cases, the nature of the defamatory statements plays a significant role in determining whether a case will be successful.

Florida Cyber Law Attorney Can Fight Your Defamation Case

When false and damaging information is published about you and your business on the internet, you can fight back. You need an experienced and aggressive Tampa cyber law attorney on your side, one who understands the latest laws governing online defamation. To schedule a consultation, call Nelson Cyber Law, PLLC at 1-800-440-5536.

 

SOURCES:

http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201616210.pdf

http://cbldf.org/2017/02/free-speech-arguments-prevail-in-tobinick-v-novella/

https://applications.mypalmbeachclerk.com/eCaseView/search.aspx

http://www.standard.net/National/2017/04/29/Florida-court-denies-CNN-request-to-toss-defamation-case-from-heart-surgeon

 

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