Malicious Prosecution in Florida

Plaintiffs can sue for the wrong reason. There are plenty of situations where a plaintiff sues someone and the case doesn’t settle in their favor. But if someone sues another individual without legal basis for that lawsuit, the original defendant can turn around and sue for malicious prosecution.

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What is malicious prosecution in Florida? 

Malicious prosecution is a situation where you sue someone for having previously brought unfounded lawsuits against you.  The reasoning behind this is that the other party abused the legal process when they brought lawsuits against you.

Malicious prosecution does not fall under the branch of laws pertaining to defamation. There are three reasons for this:

  1. First, malicious prosecution existed prior to the legality of defamation.
  2. Second, the strict liability in Florida associated with defamation was considered an inappropriate outcome.
  3. Third, malicious prosecution applies to a broader field than simply damaging someone’s reputation and as such required a different set of protections.

Malicious prosecution also differs from abuse of power and false imprisonment. These, too, represent situations where the law was inappropriately used against you. However, an abuse of power takes place when someone misuses a process for the wrong reasons but achieves the appropriate outcome such as using a position of authority to terminate someone, an action that falls under the responsibilities of that position of authority, but terminating someone for the wrong reasons.

False imprisonment also differs from this form of prosecution in Florida because false imprisonment refers to an irregularity within the legal process, that someone was convicted using the legal process, but should not have been.

Key elements malicious prosecution in Florida

In a Florida Supreme Court Case Duval Jewelry Company v. Smith, the first three requirements for malicious prosecution were established:

  1. The first is that the defendant continued an original civil or criminal proceeding between the two parties. For this element, the party that sued you originally might have believed their lawsuit had merit but if they realized during the course of the lawsuit that it was actually frivolous and did not have merit, it was up to them to stop the lawsuit. Assuming they chose to continue even after that realization, it then falls under the first key element of malicious prosecution in Florida.
  2. The second is that the defendant was the legal cause of that proceeding. This simply means you have to be the person who was originally sued in the first place and now you are the one turning around and suing them with a malicious prosecution case.
  3. The third is that the termination of the original proceeding was in favor of the plaintiff.
  4. The fourth was established in Burns v. GCC Beverages, Inc., 502 So.2d 1217 (Fla. 1986). It certified that there must have existed an absence of probable cause in the original Florida proceeding. When considering a malicious prosecution case, the courts will look at the original lawsuit brought against you to verify that the original lawsuit did not have probable cause. This ties back to the first key element and reinforces that at the time the person suing you realized there was no legal foundation for their case, they should have ended it.
  5. The fifth is that the defendant acted out of malice, something established in Adams v. Whitfield, 290 So.2d at 51. In recent years the Florida Supreme Court has maintained that it is not necessary for you to prove malice in terms of behavior and intent so long as you can prove legal malice. Some examples of proving malice include showing that the defendant falsely testified in your original proceeding. So if, for example, you can prove that you had a serious dispute with the other party prior to the lawsuit, and they warned you that they would “sue you” in retribution, this could also qualify. 
  6. The sixth is that you as the plaintiff suffered damages because of the malicious prosecution brought against you. This element requires that you prove you suffered because of the lawsuit against you. Consider reaching out for a qualified attorney to review how you can prove that you suffered damages and utilize litigation privilege.

Malicious prosecution statute of limitations in Florida

If somebody brought a lawsuit against you frivolously and you suffered because of it, and there was no foundation for it, and you believe they acted out of malice, you might have grounds for a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

However, it is imperative that you consider speaking with an attorney and gathering evidence for said lawsuit quickly. Statute of limitations is one year. 

Florida malicious prosecution compensation

If you file a malicious prosecution claim, lawyers can review your case and present evidence as to the extent of the damages you suffered in the judicial review process. At this time, your suit should provide an example of how the previous lawsuit and act directly affected you and resulted in damages suffered. 

There are a number of factors that will influence the potential compensation received including:

  • Whether you can establish malice or legal malice; being able to prove, using the example above, that someone used litigation as a way to seek retribution for a personal dispute could result in a more favorable outcome. 
  • The extent of the damages you suffered; if your reputation was publicly harmed and you lost your job or business, even family because of the frivolous case, then the courts might penalize the other party more.

Final Thoughts

Consider reaching out to an attorney if you have been the victim of a frivolous lawsuit. Malicious prosecution cases in Florida can offer a way to seek compensation, so long as you meet all the required elements and file within the Florida statute of limitations.

Article by James Finsweet

James Finsweet is a Head of legal department in LawBrother Ltd. At Lawrina, James contributes his experience in law practice and shares opinions on law regulations and news.

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