By Kirby Wilson
Tampa Bay Times
A Republican Florida lawmaker filed a bill Monday that could make it easier for plaintiffs to win defamation lawsuits against media outlets in the state — a key priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis’.
Since the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, defamation law has centered on the “actual malice” standard. That standard holds that in order to win damages from a defamation case, public figures — i.e., famous people, elected officials, etc. — have to prove publishers disseminated information knowing it was false, or with “reckless disregard” for the truth. Proving the outlet published false information is not enough.
The actual malice standard does not apply to private figures bringing defamation cases, unless they’re seeking punitive damages.
The measure, HB 951, would change who counts as a public figure. The bill would make it more difficult for defendants to argue the person suing is a public figure — in turn making it easier for the person bringing their suit to win their case.
Filed by Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, the bill would also broaden people’s access to Florida courts in defamation cases. Floridians would be able to sue publishers over alleged defamatory content in any county where they accessed the material.