Florida Slander of Title: Defamation Lawsuit Where Florida Real Estate Title is Disparaged – Can Actual and Punitive Damages Be Awarded?

Posted By on October 15, 2013

Last Update: 03/16/16

Defamation (libel or slander) lawsuits are being filed more and more often these days (see our injury blog for more details); most people are aware of these type of lawsuits where a party seeks damages for harm done to their reputation. However most people don’t know that in Florida there is a basis for a lawsuit involving slander claims for injuries caused to the “reputation” of Florida land, or real estate.

for sale sign, public domain image

These lawsuits are brought as “slander of title” or “disparagement of title” claims, and they have been respected by Florida court for many years. Here, the false statement is about land, not a person, but it still results in real harm to the plaintiff who is allowed to seek legal redress from the defendant upon sufficient proof of the cause of action.

As explained by one Florida appellate court:

Libel and slander involve defamation of personal reputation. “Slander of title” involves defamation of property interests. Old Plantation Corp. v. Maule Industries, Inc., 68 So.2d 180 (Fla. 1953). Florida courts have repeatedly recognized the interplay between libel and slander on the one hand, and “slander of title” on the other. Indeed, the statute of limitations applicable to libel and slander has been held applicable to “slander of title”. Carey v. Beyer, 75 So.2d 217 (Fla. 1954); Old Plantation Corp. v. Maule Industries, Inc., supra.

Florida courts have also acknowledged that a defendant in a “slander of title” action enjoys the same privilege which he would enjoy, under the same circumstances, in a libel action. Gates v. Utsey, 177 So.2d 486 (Fla. 1st DCA 1965).

Sailboat Key, Inc. v. Gardner, 378 So. 2d 47  (Fla. 3d DCA 1979).


What is a Florida slander of title lawsuit?

As we mentioned, a Florida slander of title claim is a lawsuit filed in a Florida court, where damages are sought based upon harm done to someone’s property. According to the longstanding case of Bothmann v. Harrington, in these cases:

“[T]he plaintiff must allege and prove the following elements:

(1) A falsehood

(2) has been published, or communicated to a third person

(3) when the defendant-publisher knows or reasonably should know that it will likely result in inducing others not to deal with the plaintiff and

(4) in fact, the falsehood does play a material and substantial part in inducing others not to deal with the plaintiff; and

(5) special damages are proximately caused as a result of the published falsehood.”


In Bothmann, for example, the lawsuit was filed because Mr. Bothmann alleged he was damaged because a false notice of lis pendens was filed in the Florida public real estate records concerning his condominium, giving incorrect and untrue information that his condo was involved in a lawsuit. It was not, and he first sued to get the notice removed from the real estate records and then he sued for slander of title damages.

What damages are available in a Florida slander of title or disparagement of title lawsuit?

1. Actual Damages

For slander of title lawsuits, Florida law requires some specific proof in how the plaintiff land owner has been harmed by the false statements made about or against the property. As explained in the case of Falic v. Legg Mason Wood Walker, Inc., only those financial losses that are the “direct and immediate result of the falsehood’s effect on the conduct of third parties” as well as the expenses incurred to fix the problem, or to “counteract the publication” can be awarded under Florida law. Additionally, these damages must be shown to be “foreseeable and normal consequences of the alleged wrongful conduct, and the conduct must be a substantial factor in bringing about the losses.”

What does this mean? Well, a “possible” lost sale without any proof a potential buyer might not meet the standards here, but with admissible proof that a land owner had to pay a certain amount in attorneys’ fees to get a fake notice of lis pendens removed from land title records (like Mr. Bothmann) would be recoverable damages.

2. Punitive Damages

There are situations where someone intentionally does a bad thing to another person, or acts “with malice.” In Florida law, “malice” supporting the additional award of “punishment” or “punitive” damages is defined as:

“How malice is defined, however, is another matter. Malice as a basis for recovery of actual damages, as distinguished from punitive damages should mean that the act or refusal was deliberate conduct without reasonable cause. See, 8 Institute on Oil and Gas, 357. Malice as a basis for recovery of punitive damages should mean actual malice, that is, ill will, bad or evil motive, or such gross indifference to or reckless disregard of the rights of others as will amount to a wilful or wanton act… .”

Collier County Publishing Co., Inc. v. Chapman, 318 So. 2d 492, 495 – Fla. 2d DCA (1975), citing Kidd v. Hoggett, 331 S.W.2d 515 (Tex. Civ. App. – 1960).

Which means that, yes — there are situations where a defendant may be held liable for punitive damages to a plaintiff for slander of title. When would that be? The defendant must be shown to have acted in a manner that meets the definition of “ill will, bad or evil motive, or such gross indifference to or reckless disregard of the rights of others as will amount to a willful or wanton act.”

For example, a condominium association places a false filing in the real estate records of a condo owner and then fails or refuses to help fix the error even though the association is well aware that the false filing is hurting the owner. That might get the association liable for some punitive or punishment damages from a Florida jury.

How much can punitive damages be in a slander of title case?

Damages for any case are dependent upon the facts and circumstances of that case. However, in the case of TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources Corp., a punitive damage award of $10,000,000 in a West Virginia slander of title case was upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

A good piece of advice is to at least speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.


Picture of Larry Tolchinsky

Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Larry an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.


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4 Responses to “Florida Slander of Title: Defamation Lawsuit Where Florida Real Estate Title is Disparaged – Can Actual and Punitive Damages Be Awarded?”

  1. John McSherry says:

    I had a foreclosure judgment, judicial Sale, certificate of title
    All VACATED with a rehearing scheduled. Reached agreement. and signed a consent to final judgment with ….
    Thank you.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    An unsecured domesticated it’s judgement to a homestead property in way of a lien, can that party also file a lis pendant to that property? what happens if the property is deemed homestead in court and the Lis Pendant was falsely filed? Is there now an action by the homeowner for
    slander of title?

  3. Rolo Tomassi says:

    Bank filed a foreclosure against victim of mortgage fraud. Sole counterclaim was Slander of Title….
    Does Slander of Title provide for attorneys fees. You guys are Awesome.

  4. Kristen N. says:

    I have a true case of MALICE, i just happened to find this bc i have been back dealing in court with him and its the worst thing I have ever read. I could not even believe that it was an actual document my ex signed. It was sent to me right when I was moving into my new house. and i get these letters from his atty all the time and theyre all the same so i just threw it in a box. I just discovered this paper this week. It was dated 4/2012. I believe any attorney who would take the time to read this, would take this case on. He makes prob 300/400k a year. maybe more. And on one of the allegations, i have pics to prove that it is false. I thought slander and libel at first but this is 100% pure malice. Email me if anyone is interested in seeing the document. I have it as a pdf on my laptop. Thanks