In Georgia, you or your business can file a defamation lawsuit to seek damages when someone makes a false statement that hurts your reputation or causes you financial harm. Common defamation lawsuits include businesses that are smeared by false advertising by competitors and individuals that are falsely accused of participating in criminal or immoral activities.

Defamation laws apply to false statements regardless of whether they’re written or spoken. Libel is the written form of defamation, which means publishers can be held liable for defamation when they publish someone else’s false statements. Slander, on the other hand, is a false and harmful oral statement made about another person.

What is a defamation lawsuit?

A defamation lawsuit is a legal claim filed in court seeking compensation for the harm caused to a person or business’ reputation due to false statements published by someone else. The key elements for a defamation lawsuit are:

  1. There was a false statement about the plaintiff. This statement cannot be a matter of opinion. Only statements that are factually capable of being proven false can be actionable as defamation. That means insults alone, even if exaggerated or untrue, are not defamatory.
  2. The statement was communicated to a third party. This covers statements that are written and published or orally communicated.
  3. The defendant knew the statement was false or was negligent in determining whether it was false, or the defendant acted with “actual malice.” The difference between a public figure and a private figure is crucial—a plaintiff who is a private figure can sue a publisher for defamation if the publisher acted intentionally or negligently in making or publishing a false statement. A person who is a “public figure” must do more to win a defamation lawsuit. Public figures must show that the publisher acted with “actual malice,” meaning they published a false statement knowing it was false or with a reckless disregard for the truth. The actual malice standard also applies to plaintiffs who are “limited purpose public figures,” meaning that they are well-known and recognizable in the context of a particular controversy or event and the statement made about them fits in that context.
  4. The plaintiff was harmed by the false statements financially or through damage to their reputation. These damages can be considerable, but hard to prove. A plaintiff must justify the amount of damages they are seeking by offering evidence such as lost business opportunities, damaged relationships, and other losses suffered due to the defendant’s defamatory statements.

What is defamation per se?

While defamation lawsuits usually require evidence to show specifically how the person was harmed by a defendant’s false statements, this requirement does not exist if the statements constitute “defamation per se.”

Statements that constitute defamation per se include: 1) statements falsely accusing another of committing a crime, 2) statements falsely accusing another of having a contagious disease, 3) statements damaging a person’s trade, office, or profession, or 4) statements that are so obviously harmful and offensive that it is unnecessary for the plaintiff to show how.

When possible, it is important to allege that a defendant’s statements are defamatory per se. In addition to allowing a jury to presume damages, statements that are defamatory per se usually entitle a plaintiff to significant damages. This is especially true when a plaintiff is falsely accused of a crime or when their livelihood depends on their reputation.

Can I file a defamation lawsuit against the media?

Yes, media (including TV, print, and digital media outlets) may be sued for defamation if they have knowingly published a false statement that harms your reputation. However, Georgia law gives some special protections to the media, especially when reporting on “public figures.” In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court held that individuals and organizations can only be liable for defamatory statements about public figures if they made the statements with “actual malice” or a reckless disregard for the truth. This makes is extremely difficult to sue a news organization for defamation. 

Aside from news outlets, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants immunity to websites that allow users to post messages and comments on their sites. This means the company hosting the website cannot be liable for the defamatory messages written by its third-party users. You cannot sue Facebook for allowing someone to post false statements about you. This is a very controversial issue, and there are proposals to eliminate or reduce this kind of protection.

Georgia law also protects broadcasters from defamation suits. A broadcasting station or network cannot be sued for defamation when a guest or other third party makes a defamatory statement on the station’s broadcast. This protection, however, does not apply to the broadcaster’s employees or agents.

Need to discuss a possible defamation lawsuit?

If you believe you have a valid claim for defamation, it is important to act quickly. Georgia law gives you only one year to file a defamation lawsuit. Contact our firm to speak with one of our experienced attorneys. Our attorneys know what it takes to win a defamation lawsuit and help you obtain justice for false attacks to your reputation and livelihood.

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