Georgia follows Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), in defining public figures. The Georgia Court of Appeals refined its test for limited-purpose public figures in the well-known case of Richard Jewell, the security guard during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta who was first hailed as a hero for discovering a knapsack bomb in Centennial Olympic Park, but later was investigated by the FBI as a possible suspect in placing the bomb. In the court's view, by granting a series of media interviews in which he attempted to influence public perception of security at the park, Jewell became a voluntary limited-purpose public figure for purposes of his libel suit against an Atlanta newspaper. See Atlanta Journal-Constitution v. Jewell, 555 S.E.2d 175, 185 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001).

The Georgia Court of Appeals adopted a three-part test for determining who is a limited-purpose public figure: “the court must [1] isolate the public controversy, [2] examine the plaintiff's involvement in the controversy, and [3] determine whether the alleged defamation was germane to the plaintiff's participation in the controversy.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution v. Jewell, 555 S.E.2d at 183.

Actual Malice and Negligence

In Georgia, a private figure plaintiff bringing a defamation lawsuit must prove that the defendant was at least negligent with respect to the truth or falsity of the allegedly defamatory statements. Public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice, i.e., knowing that the statements were false or recklessly disregarding their falsity. See the general page on actual malice and negligence for details on these standards.

Privileges and Defenses

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