These elements of a defamation claim in Washington are for the most part similar to the elements listed in the general Defamation Law section. However, in Washington, the elements of a defamation claim have two characteristics that differ slightly from the general section's description of defamation law.
Public and Private Figures
Washington courts rely heavily on the "vortex" notion of a limited-purpose public figure. See Camer v. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 723 P.2d 863 (Wash. 1986). The definition of a limited-purpose public figure is covered in the general Actual Malice and Negligence section of this guide under the limited-purpose public figures discussion (scroll down to the topic heading "limited-purpose public figures"). The guide states a person becomes a limited-purpose public figure only if he voluntarily "draw[s] attention to himself" or uses his position in the controversy "as a fulcrum to create public discussion." Wolston v. Reader's Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157, 168 (1979). He must, therefore, "thrust himself into the vortex of [the] public issue [and] engage the public's attention in an attempt to influence its outcome." See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 352 (1974).
For example, a businessman who was involved in a commercial real-estate development project was considered a limited-purpose public figure in a defamation lawsuit against a newspaper which had printed articles about the development project that stated he was a tax felon. The court reasoned the businessman was a limited-purpose public figure because he “thrust himself into the vortex of [the] public issue” when he sent letters to residents of the real-estate development area telling the residents about the development project and advising them he would be updating them on its progress. Clardy v. Cowles Pub. Co., 912 P.2d 1078 (Wash. Ct. App. 1986).
Actual Malice and Negligence