Defamation – Slander Per Se under Florida Law and Punitive Damages

Defamation is generally defined as the unprivileged publication of false statements which naturally and proximately result in injury to another.  Wolfson v. Kirk, 273 So. 2d 774 (Fla. 4th DCA 1973).  To establish a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must show: (1) That the defendant published a false statement about the plaintiff; (2) To a third party; and (3) That the falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff. See Razner v. Wellington Regional Med. Ctr., Inc., 837 So. 2d 437 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002).  Only those statements that are false rise to the level of defamation.  Id.  Also, statements of pure opinion are not actionable.  Florida Med. Ctr., Inc. v. New York Post Co., Inc., 568 So. 2d 454 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990). 

There are four categories of statements that constitute slander per se:  

1. Imputing to another a criminal offense amounting to a felony; 

2. Imputing to another a presently existing venereal disease or other loathsome and communicable disease; 

3. Imputing to another, the other being a woman, acts of unchastity; 

4. Imputing to another conduct, characteristics or a condition incompatible with the proper exercise of his lawful business, trade, profession, or office. 

See Wolfson, 273 So. 2d at 777 (internal citations omitted).

In a slander per se action, “punitive damages may be awarded even though the amount of actual damages is neither found nor shown, for in such a case, the requirement of a showing of actual damages as a basis of an award for exemplary damages is satisfied by the presumption of injury which arises from a showing of libel or slander that is actionable per se.”  Saunders Hardware Five and Ten, Inc. v. Low, 307 So. 2d 893 (Fla. 3d DCA 1974).  

The application of the punitive damages rule above was recently made by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Lawnwood Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Sadow, 43 So. 3d 710 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010), where a surgeon (Dr. Samuel H. Sadow) brought an action against a hospital for breach of contract and slander per se seeking compensatory damages for both claims and punitive damages for the slander per se action.  In the trial court proceeding, the jury found the hospital liable on the breach of contract claim and fixed damages at $2,817,000, reduced to $1,517,000. In separate proceedings on the slander per se claim, the jury found Lawnwood liable for the slanders; that Lawnwood specifically intended to harm him by its per se slanderous statements; that, in fact, it had actually injured him by the statements; and that he suffered no compensatory damages from the slanders but that he was entitled to punitive damages of $5,000,000 from the hospital.  Id. at 712.    The Fourth District Court of Appeal, affirmed the punitive damages award, and set forth the following interesting discussion in its supporting opinion.

…[W]hen the claim is defamation per se, liability itself creates a conclusive legal presumption of loss or damage and is alone sufficient for the jury to consider punitive damages. […] To sum up, Florida’s unusually high protection of personal reputation derives from the common consent of humankind and has ancient roots. It is highly valued by civilized people. Our state constitution and common law powerfully support it. This is a value as old as the Pentateuch and the Book of Exodus, and its command as clear as the Decalogue: “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” The personal interest in one’s own good name and reputation surpasses economics, business practices or money. It is a fundamental part of personhood, of individual standing and one’s sense of worth. In short, the wrongdoing underlying the punitive damages in this case has Florida law’s most severe condemnation, its highest blameworthiness, its most deserving culpability.  For slander per se, reprehensibility is at its highest.
 
Lawnwood, 43 So. 3d at 727-29, review denied, 36 So. 3d 84 (Fla. 2010), and cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 905 (U.S. 2011) (footnotes omitted).
 
 

Selecting the proper legal structure is one of the most important initial decisions that a business owner can make. Picking the wrong structure can have serious potential liability and tax consequences. An experienced Fort Lauderdale business formation attorney can assist you with choosing the best legal structure for your business and advise you on the benefits and disadvantages of each one.

Your company’s legal structure has major implications on your taxes and liabilities

The legal structure that you select for your business has a major impact on several aspects of its operation include taxes, personal liability for the owners, the amount of paperwork that is required, meeting requirements and more. An experienced attorney will tell you that there is no such thing as the perfect legal structure that works for every type of business.

Whether you are an individual business owner or one of several shareholders, you can benefit from speaking with an attorney during the planning stages of your business to determine the type of entity that is most suitable for you.

Type of business entities that an attorney can assist you with

A Fort Lauderdale business formation attorney can help you with forming any type of business entity that you may need including an S corporation, C Corporation, LLC, or professional corporation. Below is a brief overview of each type:

Mark Schecter has extensive experience helping business owners from all backgrounds with picking the best entity for their company. If you have any specific questions about forming a new business or the above mentioned business entities, contact Mark Schecter at Schecter Law today.

With a wide range of different do-it-yourself legal document services available, many Florida entrepreneurs try to manage the important task of incorporating their business on their own. Online legal document preparation services offer the promise that they can give business owners everything that they need to file the documents for a new business at a low cost. However, there is no way for a template document to cover all of the specific and unique circumstances and terms that need to be included in a new company’s initial documents to protect its owners from risk and legal issues.

You may need a more effective solution than an online document preparation service

Online legal document preparation services are incredibly limited in what they can do in terms of business formation. If the business is complicated in any way: if there are shareholder agreements that need to be drafted, if stock issues need to be addressed, if intellectual property is involved, or any other matter that requires a deviation from standard business formation documents, hiring an attorney is always a better decision. Your attorney will customize your business’s documents as needed, while document preparation services may leave out important details that can turn into liabilities later on.

Your attorney will have a background and understanding of your business if there are future problems

There are many circumstances that may arise during your business venture that will require the assistance of an attorney. When you hire an attorney to create and file your organization’s legal documents, you have a legal expert available with a background and understanding of your business model. Your attorney will be ready to help once you call for legal assistance and will be able to deal with the matter efficiently, saving you time and money.

Online legal document preparation services are not that inexpensive

You may be thinking that online legal document preparation services are the least expensive route to getting your business registered in Florida, but this is not always the case. There are often hidden recurring monthly charges and other extra costs if you want your documents to actually be reviewed by an expert. The total costs can end up being comparable or even more than what a lawyer will charge you, and the major downside is that you won’t be getting 100% original documents for your business that cover the many unique legal situations that you may encounter in your line of work.

Mark Schecter at Schecter Law is an experienced South Florida business formation attorney who can create and file the appropriate business formation documents with all of the necessary protections and ensure that your company is properly registered for business in Florida. Contact Schecter Law today for more information on our business formation services or other legal services.

Areas of Concern When You Form a New Business

When you start a new company, you should seek the advice of a South Florida business formation attorney who can assist you with all aspects of your business’s formation. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly launch a business without having a plan in place to manage their risk. An attorney can address the most pressing legal risks to you before you dive into your business. An experienced attorney will also ensure that the right type of legal structure is used for your business and will address any unique concerns and potential issues with you before they become a real problem.

There may be operational risks that you are unaware of

A knowledgeable attorney can help you see your blind spots, or previously unforeseen risks that can have a tremendous impact on the future of your business. Your attorney will very likely catch risks or operational issues that you were previously unaware of after a consultation. An attorney can also give you advice regarding the most likely troubles that you may encounter during the operation of your business, and which specific liabilities to focus most of your time and resources on avoiding.

Addressing how a business is divided between multiple owners

If a business has multiple owners, it is always advantageous to hire an attorney for help with organizing the business. Your attorney can help you determine how your business should be fairly divided in terms of equity and responsibility. Also, any profit sharing agreements and partnerships can and should be properly documented in writing by your attorney so that future disputes can be easily solved or prevented altogether.

Your attorney can help you obtain permits

Your attorney can also help you obtain every license that is necessary for the operation of your business. This can include any permits needed to operate your business in Florida, intellectual property rights, arranging agreements and more. For some businesses this can be a complicated process, however the financial consequences of operating a business without permits can be quite severe. Also, if any permit or license issue arises in the future, your attorney will already be knowledgeable about your business and will help you navigate through the problem quickly and cost effectively.

Mark Schecter is an experienced South Florida business formation attorney who can answer any questions that you may have during the process of starting a new business. Contact Schecter Law today if you have any questions at all about your business or for a consultation.

Both commercial and residential real estate disputes are quite common and sometimes inevitable. If you find yourself in any type of real estate dispute, you will want a Fort Lauderdale real property litigation attorney with experience in dispute resolution and a deep understanding of the litigation process to advise you. Real estate disputes are not something that you want deal with on your own due to the potential cost of making a wrong decision, so seek the advice of an attorney if you are in a dispute.

Property access and boundary disputes

Property access and boundary disputes can be stressful and troublesome to deal with without the help of a lawyer. Some of the situations that might occur include: a neighbor blocking access to a part of a property, a view being blocked, a property being built across a boundary line and many others. These disputes will usually arise if boundaries are not properly researched, and an experienced Fort Lauderdale real property litigation attorney can research the registered boundary to avoid or resolve disputes.

Commercial tenant problems and eviction

Several commercial tenant and landlord conflicts can arise at any given point, and these conflicts can be quite complicated. An experienced attorney is best suited to resolve any type of commercial tenant or eviction problems. Evictions can be very expensive for a commercial landlord and can cause a great amount of financial stress and be time consuming without legal advice. An experienced attorney can handle evictions or other disputes quickly and efficiently to reduce costs and time spent by tenants or landlords.

Disputes with real estate agents can be resolved by a Fort Lauderdale real property litigation attorney

Some of the disputes and problems with real estate agents that can arise may include: commission disputes, contract detail disputes, undisclosed property defects, real estate fraud, and many others. These disputes should be handled by a lawyer who can negotiate any type of conflict with a real estate agent and pursue real estate litigation if necessary.


Contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale real property litigation attorney for dispute help

If you find yourself in the midst of any of these or other real estate disputes, don’t try to handle them yourself without the advice of a Ford Lauderdale real property litigation attorney. Contact Schecter Law for skilled and highly experienced legal guidance to save yourself the time and stress of handling a dispute on your own.

The doctrine of lender liability refers to the various legal theories a commercial borrower may bring against their lender for purported misconduct. According to the American Bankers Association, breach of contract is the most prevalent theory of lender liability used by borrowers against lenders. The South Florida lender liability claims attorneys at Schecter Law have represented both borrowers and lenders.

Borrowers may claim the lender breached a commitment to fund or renew a loan, breached an oral commitment, or breached Florida contract law’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. If a breach of contract occurred, the lender can be sued as the breaching party. Damages for breach of contract may include the difference between the loan amount and the costs for obtaining a replacement loan. Additionally, damages may include lost opportunity or lost profit resulting from the breach of contract.

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Katz Deli v. Waterways Plaza, 3D12-3409 & 3D13-124 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013):

This appeal and cross-appeal contested the amount of damages awarded for a breach of contract that led to the constructive eviction and ultimate destruction of Katz Deli. Katz Deli expanded by leasing a space in the Waterways Plaza of Aventura. The lease required monthly rental payments of $25,000, contained lease renewals that could potentially extend until 2022, and required the landlord to make all necessary repairs to the structure and roof. The lease was negotiated before Waterways Plaza purchased the property. Hiring an experienced South Florida commercial real estate attorney for lease negotiations can help avoid disputes arising from complicated commercial leases.

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Condominiums created and existing in the state of Florida are subject to the provisions of the Florida Condominium Act. The Act gives statutory recognition to the condo form of ownership of real property and establishes procedures for the creation, sale, and operation of condos. Our South Florida condominium dispute attorneys are well equipped to handle the entire spectrum of matters that may occur.

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Construction is taking place all over South Florida. Looking around Brickell, Downtown Miami, and Fort Lauderdale you will undoubtedly spot cranes working on various projects. With all of the construction, there are likely to be instances of construction related litigation. One particular area of construction litigation is construction defects. Our experienced Fort Lauderdale law firm can assist in these cases.

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Yang v. Sebastian Lakes Condominium Ass’n, 4D12-3363 and 4D12-3364 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013):

This appeal focused on the business record exception to the hearsay rule. Two condo owners appealed a final judgment of foreclosure on the condo association’s liens for assessed maintenance fees. The association’s attorney sent letters to condo owners notifying them of overdue assessments and collection fees. The letters informed the owners that a lien would be placed on their units if assessments were not paid. Another letter was then sent to the owners informing them that the association had recorded a Claim of Lien on their units and that it might foreclose if the past-due amounts were not paid.

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