As an Atlanta, Georgia commercial dispute attorney, I have know Georgia defamation lawsuits are commonly reported in the media involving movie stars, professional athletes and other celebrities who claim that false statements have been made about them. But defamation lawsuits can also blindside Georgia business owners who may be unaware of how communications made by their employees can be interpreted under the law. Even false statements innocently made by employees about competitors or other third parties put businesses at risk. Statements made verbally in a business meeting or communicated via written documents, such as letters, advertising, press releases and emails, can be a source for damaging lawsuits. As a result, it is imperative that all communications, especially those intended for wide distribution, be checked for fairness and accuracy.
Georgia law outlines the four main elements of a defamation claim. The first is the false statement, which may be spoken (known as “slander”) or written (known as “libel”). Secondly, the statement must be spoken or communicated in writing to a third party. Thirdly, the defendant must be shown to have acted with negligence or, in some cases, malice. Lastly, the law requires that damage to the plaintiff be proven, unless the suit is classified as “per se” defamation. “Per se” defamation is based on false statements that are so egregious that they are automatically presumed to be harmful. Examples under which Georgia law considers a statement to be defamatory “per se” include statements that charge the plaintiff with a crime punishable under the law, or statements intended to damage the office or profession of the plaintiff.
The personnel departments of companies must be extremely careful about defamation concerning former employees. For this reason, it is critical to have an experienced North Georgia Business Lawyer review the policies and procedures concerning employee hiring and termination. The company’s communication policy should be reviewed as well, with the prevention of defamation lawsuits in mind. Additionally, it may be wise to consider insurance coverage in the event that any defamation claims are filed against the company.