Lawyer’s $350K win for defamatory online review is upheld on appeal
A Florida appeals court has upheld $350,000 in punitive damages awarded to a Florida lawyer who claimed she was defamed in online reviews.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled on behalf of lawyer Ann-Marie Giustibelli in a Jan. 6 opinion (PDF), report the News Service of Florida, BNA’s Electronic Commerce and Law Report and the Financial News & Daily Record.
The court ruled that there was no First Amendment protection for false allegations that Giustibelli falsified a fee contract and misrepresented her fees. The court said the statements purported to be factual allegations, rather than statements of opinion, “and the evidence showed they were false.”
The former client, Copia Blake, had agreed to pay Giustibelli $300 an hour, as reflected on the written retainer agreement, the court said. At trial, Blake admitted that Giustibelli had not charged more than the quoted fees.
Yet Blake and her ex-husband had claimed in online reviews that Giustibelli “altered her charges to 4 times the original quote with no explanation. Do not use her. Do not mistake sincerity for honesty.”