Georgia recognizes that certain statements constitute defamation per se. These statements are so egregious that they will always be considered defamatory and are assumed to harm the plaintiff's reputation, without further need to prove that harm. Under Georgia statutes, a statement is defamatory per se if it:
charges another person with a crime punishable by law;
charges another person “with having some contagious disorder or with being guilty of some debasing act which may exclude him from society;” or
refers to the trade, office, or profession of another person, and is calculated to injure him.
See Ga. Code Ann. §51-5-4.
Georgia courts have interpreted defamation per se to include statements “that one is guilty of a crime, dishonesty or immorality,” Eidson v. Berry, 415 S.E.2d 16, 17 (Ga. Ct. App. 1992), or that accuse one “of having sexual relations with any person other than his wife,” Baskin v. Rogers, 493 S.E.2d 728, 730 (Ga. Ct. App. 1997). The courts have narrowed the criteria for defamation of a business person by adopting the “single instance test.” A plaintiff has no grounds for a complaint if the alleged defamatory statement refers to only a single instance of mistake or ignorance on the part of a business or professional person. See Crown Andersen, Inc. v. Georgia Gulf Corp., 554 S.E.2d 518, 521 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001).
Who Can Sue For Defamation
Georgia recognizes no “right of action for defamation of a deceased person.” Saari v. Gillett Communications of Atlanta, Inc., 393 S.E.2d 736, 736 (Ga. Ct. App. 1990). However, if a defamation plaintiff dies after suit is filed, the representative of the deceased plaintiff's estate may continue the lawsuit. Johnson v. Bradstreet Co., 13 S.E. 250, 252 (Ga. 1891).
Limited-Purpose Public Figures