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How Are Damages to Reputation Determined in a Defamation Case?

When a plaintiff in a defamation case alleges damages to his or her reputation, the standard of damages is somewhat amorphous, akin to an award of pain and suffering in a personal injury case. In such cases, the jury is given broad discretion to fashion an appropriate award based upon the circumstances without the need to apply any exact standard.

Indeed, Florida case law provides that a jury may issue an award to a plaintiff for “[a]ny injury to reputation experienced in the past or to be experienced in the future. There is no exact standard for fixing the compensation to be awarded on account of such elements of damage. Any award should be fair and just in light of the evidence.”

So what is fair and just in light of the evidence when no exact standard applies as to how reputational damages are determined? The following factors may be considered, among others:

  • The nature of the false statements, including whether they are defamatory per se, i.e., inherently harmful such that loss or damage is presumed;
  • The scope of the audience that had or has received the defamatory publication;
  • The intent and motive of the author in making the false statements;
  • The actual financial, reputational and emotional harm caused;
  • The cost of reparation to remedy the harm;
  • The permanency of the publication and damage;
  • The certainty of the damage;
  • The willingness of the author to retract the false statement and whether such statement can be removed;
  • The correlation between the degree of harm and the amount of damages sought;
  • The continuing and expanding nature of the harm, e.g., reposting of false statements on the internet.

These are just some examples of the factors to consider when a jury must award compensatory damages that are fair and just.

The bottom line is a jury should consider numerous factors and circumstances in fashioning an appropriate award for damages to one’s reputation. Likewise, the jury is given wide discretion, without being bound to an exact standard, in determining what is a fair and just award.

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