Florida: False Light

Note: This page covers information specific to Florida. For general information concerning false light see the general False Light section of this guide. 

Florida false light law is in flux. While some Florida appellate courts have recognized false light claims, the Florida Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the tort applies in Florida. It has indicated, however, that an invasion of privacy action may be used to remedy what it described as “false light in the public eye--publication of facts which place a person in a false light even though the facts themselves may not be defamatory.”  See Agency for Health Care Admin. v. Associated Indus. of Fla., Inc., 678 So.2d 1239, 1252 (Fla. 1996).

On March 6, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral argument in the appeal of Gannett Co. v. Anderson, 947 So.2d 1. (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006). Anderson claimed that a Gannett news article, while factually true, raised the false implication that he had murdered his wife with a 12-gauge shotgun because the article waited two sentences to mention that the shooting had been declared accidental. Gannett, 947 So.2d at 3. The court’s decision in that case is expected to resolve whether false light invasion of privacy is distinct from defamation in Florida.

Elements of a False Light Claim

Florida appellate courts that have recognized false light have applied the elements discussed in the general False Light section, with the following exceptions and clarifications:

Offensiveness

The statement must be "highly offensive to a reasonable person" to constitute false light invasion of privacy.  See See Straub v. Scarpa, 967 So.2d 437, 439 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E). For example, a letter to a homeowners’ association stating that the association budget “will no doubt contain very expensive items that have nothing to do with the operation of our community,” did not cast a director of the association in a false light because no reasonable person would be highly offended by the letter. Straub, 967 So.2d at 439.

Falsehood

Florida courts have not required falsehood.  For example, a Florida appellate court held that a man could claim false light invasion of privacy when a 60 Minutes television segment included interview footage of his former wife in the midst of “stories and pictures of women who had been abused, battered, and killed by their domestic partners.” See Heekin, 789 So.2d at 358. False light was an actionable claim because the broadcast created the impression that the plaintiff had battered his wife, even though the entire broadcast was truthful. According to the court, “neither knowledge of the falsity of the information nor reckless disregard for its truth is an element of a cause of action for false light invasion of privacy.” See Heekin, 789 So.2d at 359.

Fault

Florida courts have required that the “defendant must have acted either knowingly or in reckless disregard as to the falsity of the publicized material and the false light in which it would be placed.” Lane v. MRA Holdings, LLC, 242 F.Supp.2d 1205, 1221 (M.D. Fla. 2002).

Privileges and Defenses

If you are sued for false light, you may have several defenses that will protect you, even if the plaintiff has an otherwise winning case.  See the section on Defamation Privileges and Defenses for a general discussion of potential defenses.

 

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Last updated on August 28th, 2008

   
 
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