June 14, 2011

Specificity Needed to Support Jury Award for Lost Profits Based on Defamation, But Not for General Damages to Reputation

NITV, L.L.C. v. Baker, 4D10-1503
May 25, 2011

NITV appealed an adverse jury verdict in the amount of $575,000, based upon Baker’s defamation claim. Baker and NITV were in competition, as they both distributed and provided training for similar “truth verifier” software programs used by law enforcement agencies. NITV prepared two documents, one of which was entitled “Law Enforcement Scam Alert” in reference to Baker’s business, and published them to Baker’s actual and potential customers. This triggered Baker’s defamation suit. At trial, the jury gave Baker an award for the loss of the ability to earn money in the past and future, as well as for the injury to Baker’s reputation.

On appeal, the Fourth District reversed the former and affirmed the latter. Citing State, Dep’t of Children & Family Servs. v. Amora, 944 So.2d 431, 435 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), the Court held that Baker’s damages award for the past and the future lost earnings were not supported by competent substantial evidence. The Court noted that Baker’s testimony regarding his economic damages was “vague and ill-defined.” Baker provided no documentation or specificity that would support his testimony of his actual loss. The court also noted that his tax returns show that his income actually increased from 2003-2006.

Despite reversing the economic damages, the court affirmed the damages for injury to Baker’s reputation. The court cited Hood v. Connors, 419 So.2d 742, 743 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982) holding that general damages are presumed in slander per se actions. The court concluded that the jury certainly could have reasonably inferred that NITV intended the publications to cause damage to Baker’s reputation. Since the jury was properly instructed on causation and damages, and in the absence of a fixed standard on general damages, the Court affirmed the $250,000 award for injury to Baker’s reputation.