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Florida Standard Jury Instructions For Defamation Law

Below is the Supreme Court standard jury instruction for defamation cases. Jury instructions give an excellent road map for attorneys to begin their case and determining what the legal obstacles will be. It is also a good tool to give sophisticated clients the law which may be read to a jury and will help clients and lawyers identify the issues which may arise and assist with the type of information which may be needed to be procured at the discovery stage.

Standard Jury Instructions for Defamation cases

The issues for your determination on the claim of (claimant) against (defendant) are:

a. Issue whether publication concerning claimant was made as claimed:

Whether (defendant) [made] [published] [broadcast] the statement concerning (claimant) as (claimant) contends; and, if so,

b. Issue whether publication was false and defamatory:

Whether (defendant’s) statement concerning (claimant) was in some significant respect a false statement of fact and [tended to expose (claimant) to hatred, ridicule, or contempt] [or] [tended to injure (claimant) in his business, reputation, or occupation] [or] [charged that (claimant) committed a crime].

If the greater weight of the evidence does not support the claim of (claimant) on the issues I have just mentioned, then your verdict should be for (defendant). “Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive force and effect of the entire evidence in the case. However, if the greater weight of the evidence does support the claim of (claimant) on those issues, then:

c. Issue whether defendant acted with actual malice:

You must next determine whether clear and convincing evidence shows that at the time the statement was made (defendant) knew the statement was false or had serious doubts as to its truth.

“Clear and convincing evidence” differs from the “greater weight of the evidence” in that it is more compelling and persuasive. “Clear and convincing evidence” is evidence that is precise, explicit, lacking in confusion, and of such weight that it produces a firm belief or conviction, without hesitation, about the matter in issue.

If clear and convincing evidence does not show that (defendant) knew when the statement was made that it was false, or that he had serious doubts then as to its truth, your verdict should be for (defendant).

However, if clear and convincing evidence does support (claimant’s) claim on this issue, and the greater weight of the evidence supports (claimant’s) claim on the other issues on which I have instructed you, then your verdict should be for (claimant).

Proceed to MI 4.4, Defamation: Causation and Damages.

MI 4.2 DEFAMATION: PRIVATE CLAIMANT, MEDIA DEFENDANT

The issues for your determination on the claim of (claimant) against (defendant) are:

a. Issue whether publication concerning claimant was made as claimed:

Whether (defendant) [published] [broadcast] the statement concerning (claimant) as (claimant) contends; and, if so,

b. Issue whether publication was false and defamatory:

Whether (defendant’s) statement concerning (claimant) was in some significant respect a false statement of fact and [tended to expose (claimant) to hatred, ridicule, or contempt] [or] [tended to injure (claimant) in his business, reputation, or occupation] [or] [charged that (claimant) committed a crime]; and, if so,

c. Issue whether defendant was negligent:

Whether (defendant) was negligent in making that statement. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. Reasonable care is that degree of care which a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Negligence may consist either in doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances.

If the greater weight of the evidence does not support the claim of (claimant) on these issues, then your verdict should be *197 for (defendant). However, if the greater weight of the evidence does support the claim of (claimant) on these issues, then your verdict should be for (claimant) and against (defendant).

“Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.

Proceed to MI 4.4, Defamation: Causation and Damages.

MI 4.3 DEFAMATION: PRIVATE CLAIMANT, NONMEDIA DEFENDANT WITH OR WITHOUT QUALIFIED PRIVILEGE

The issues for your determination on the claim of (claimant) against (defendant) are:

a. Issue whether a defamatory publication concerning claimant was made as claimed:

Whether (defendant) made the statement concerning (claimant) as (claimant) contends; and, if so, whether the statement [tended to expose (claimant) to hatred, ridicule, or contempt] [or] [tended to injure (claimant) in his business, reputation, or occupation] [or] [charged that (claimant) committed a crime].

If the greater weight of the evidence does not support the claim of (claimant) on these issues, then your verdict should be for (defendant). However, if the greater weight of the evidence does support the claim of (claimant) on these issues, then [your verdict should be for (claimant) in the total amount of his damages] [you shall consider [the defense of truth and good motives] [and] [the defense of privilege] raised by (defendant)].

b. Defense issues of truth and good motives:

On the [first] defense, the issue for your determination is whether the statement made by (defendant) was substantially true and was made by (defendant) with good motives.

If the greater weight of the evidence supports this defense, your verdict should be for (defendant).

If the greater weight of the evidence does not support this defense, [and the greater weight of the evidence does support the claim of (claimant) on the issues I previously mentioned, then your verdict should be for (claimant) in the total amount of his damages.] [then you shall consider the defense of privilege raised by (defendant).]

c. Defense issue whether defendant had qualified privilege: If defendant has a qualified privilege as a matter of law, skip to 4.3d.

On the defense of privilege, I instruct you that provided one does not speak with improper motives, which I shall explain in a moment, a person such as (defendant) is privileged to make a statement to [someone such as (name)] [an audience such as (describe)] about another such as (claimant), even if the statement is untrue, under the following circumstances:

Describe in general terms, sufficient for the jury to understand the interests protected by law, the facts which if proved would give rise to a qualified privilege. See Comment 6.

If the greater weight of the evidence does not show that these circumstances existed, then you must find that (defendant) had no privilege to make such a statement even with proper motives. However, if the greater weight of the evidence does show that (defendant) spoke under circumstances creating such a privilege, then you should determine whether, as (claimant) contends, (defendant) made the statement with improper motives abusing that privilege.

d. Issue whether defendant abused qualified privilege:

[(Defendant) had a privilege to make a statement even if untrue, provided he did so with proper motives. Such a privilege existed because]

Describe in general terms, sufficient for the jury to understand the interests protected by law, the facts giving rise to the qualified privilege. See Comment 6.

*198 The issue for your determination is therefore whether, as (claimant) contends, (defendant) made the statement with improper motives abusing that privilege. One makes a false statement about another with improper motives if one’s primary motive and purpose in making the statement is to gratify one’s ill will, hostility and intent to harm the other, rather than [to advance or protect (defendant’s) interest, right or duty to speak to (name) on that subject] [or] [to advance or protect the interests of the person to whom the statement was made].

If the greater weight of the evidence does not support the claim of (claimant) that (defendant) abused any privilege he had [and the greater weight of the evidence does support the defense of privilege], then your verdict should be for (defendant).

However, if the greater weight of the evidence does support the claim of (claimant) that (defendant) abused any privilege he had, then your verdict should be for (claimant) in the total amount of his damages.

e. “Greater weight of evidence” defined:

“Greater weight of the evidence” means the more persuasive and convincing force and effect of the entire evidence in the case.

Proceed to MI 4.4, Defamation: Causation and Damages.

MI 4.4 DEFAMATION: CAUSATION AND DAMAGES

If you find for (defendant), you will not consider the matter of damages. But, if you find for (claimant), you should award (claimant) an amount of money that the greater weight of the evidence shows will fairly and adequately compensate (claimant) for such [loss] [injury] [or] [damage] as the greater weight of the evidence shows was caused by the [statement] [publication] complained of. A [statement] [publication] is a cause of [loss] [injury] [or] [damage] if it directly and in natural and continuous sequence produces or contributes substantially to producing such [loss] [injury] [or] [damage]. If you find for (claimant), you shall consider the following elements of damage:

a. Injury to reputation or health; shame, humiliation, mental anguish, hurt feelings:

Any injury to reputation or health and any shame, humiliation, mental anguish, and hurt feelings 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 the light of the evidence.

b. Aggravation or activation of disease or defect:

Any aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect [or activation of any such latent condition], resulting from such [statement] [publication]. If you find that there was such an aggravation, you should determine, if you can, what portion of (claimant’s) condition resulted from the aggravation and make allowance in your verdict only for the aggravation. However, if you cannot make that determination or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the [statement] [publication], you should consider and make allowance in your verdict for the entire condition.

c. Medical expenses:

The reasonable [value] [or] [expense] of [hospitalization and] medical [and nursing] care and treatment necessarily or reasonably obtained by (claimant) [for his wife] in the past [or to be so obtained in the future].

d. Lost earnings, lost time, lost earning capacity: (1) When lost earnings or lost working time shown:

[Any earnings] [Any working time] lost in the past [and any loss of ability to earn money in the future].

(2) When earnings or lost working time not shown:

Any loss of ability to earn money sustained in the past [and any such loss in the future].

*199 e. Reduction to present value:

Any amounts which you allow in damages for [loss of ability to earn money in the future] [or] [(describe any other future economic loss subject to reduction to present value)] should be reduced to their present money value [and only the present money value of such amounts should be included in your verdict] [and you should state in the verdict form provided to you both the total of such future damages and their present value].

f. Nominal damages:

If you find for (claimant) but find that no [loss] [injury] [or] [damage] has been proved, you [should] [may] award nominal damages. Nominal damages are damages of an inconsequential amount which are awarded to vindicate a right where a wrong is established but no damage is proved.

g. Punitive damages:

If you find for (claimant) [and against defendant (name defendant whose conduct may warrant punitive damages)], you may consider whether in the circumstances of the case it is appropriate to award punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages, as punishment and as a deterrent to others.

Standard if statement was on a matter of public concern:

In your discretion, you may award punitive damages if clear and convincing evidence shows that at the time of making the statement (defendant) knew the statement was false or had serious doubts as to its truth; and if the greater weight of the evidence shows that (defendant’s) primary purpose in making the statement was to indulge ill will, hostility, and an intent to harm (claimant).

Standard if statement was not on a matter of public concern:

In your discretion, you may award punitive damages if the greater weight of the evidence shows that (defendant’s) primary purpose in making the statement was to indulge ill will, hostility, and an intent to harm (claimant).

If the greater weight of the evidence does not show conduct of such a character, you may not award punitive damages. You may in your discretion decline to award punitive damages even if you find there is a basis for such an award. [If you find that punitive damages should be assessed against [the] [any] defendant, then in fixing the amount of such damages, you should consider the nature, extent, and degree of the misconduct and the related circumstances [including the financial resources of such defendant].] [You may assess punitive damages against one defendant and not the other[s] or against more than one defendant in different amounts.]