Libel vs. Slander: Defamation in Condominiums, Cooperatives and Homeowners Associations.

Whether it is libel or slander, defamation may generally be defined as the unprivileged publication of false statements that naturally and proximately injure someone else. The law of defamation allows people in Florida to recover money damages from people who maliciously injure their reputations with false statements.

What is Libel vs. Slander? Libel is a defamatory statement made in writing, and slander is a defamatory statement made verbally.

Generally, to recover damages for defamation the person who makes a false statement must also have a malicious intent to harm the person who is the victim of the defamation, but in some cases of “defamation per se” malice does not have to be proved. When someone falsely attributes another person with felonious conduct, with having certain “loathsome” diseases, with conduct that is inconsistent with their lawful occupation, and in other limited circumstances, the statements are considered to be defamatory per se. Due to the nature of these types of statements, the person making them should make sure to have his or her facts straight before making the statements. The law presumes that the natural and proximate consequences of these types of false statements will injure someone in his or her social, official and business relations, and the statement is considered to be defamatory per se whether or not the person making the statement actually had a malicious intent.

In order to obtain a judgment against someone for defamation, a plaintiff in court has to prove that the defendant they’re suing (1) made a false statement (2) about the plaintiff (3) to a third party and (4) that the falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff.

Charges of defamation frequently arise in the context of condominium, cooperative and homeowners associations when members of an association accuse their directors, officers, management, or other association members of mishandling the association’s funds or other property, or of abusing their powers to mistreat their neighbors. In the heat of association disputes, false statements can cause real damage to others, when someone is accused of dishonesty, criminality, or abusing their powers.

When the statements are false, and the person accused of the misconduct has been injured, the person making the statements may find themselves responsible for the injuries that their statements cause.

If a manager, officer, or other legal representative of an association makes a defamatory statement about someone in an official communication from the association, the association itself may be legally responsible for the injuries caused by the representative’s defamatory statements.

Associations that want to minimize their potential exposure for charges of defamation should remind their officers, directors, managers, directors and members, both at the start of their meetings and in written forums for communication, that everyone should be civil, courteous and judicious about what they say about each other.

Associations have a common purpose to manage their associations’ funds and properties for the benefit of their members. In condominiums, townhomes and other commonly managed communities, the quality of life of people living there can be greatly enhanced when an association can maintain civil discourse in conducting its business. The association can avoid potentially costly, time consuming and aggravating lawsuits if it promotes civil discourse and discourages potentially defamatory statements.

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* Disclaimer: This article is intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. There is no lawyer and client relationship arising from this article. You may contact us to discuss your specific concerns if you are seeking legal advice, assistance or representation.