The word defamation is defined as any false communication that is intentional and intended to damage someone’s reputation. When this communication is spoken it is called slander, and if it’s written it is called libel. Depending on the nature and severity of the remarks, defamation may be either a civil or a criminal charge.
In Georgia, false statements intended to cause harm are considered defamatory statements. But there is also “defamation per se,” which refers to statements so serious they are always considered defamatory without the need to prove actual harm. These include statements that falsely accuse people of committing crimes, having a contagious disease, engaging in serious sexual misconduct, or designed specifically to harm someone in their profession.
In the majority of cases, defamation lawsuits involve individuals. Sometimes, however, corporations become involved, too. In the modern world of fast information and even faster opinions, many people want to know if a corporation can sue for defamation.
Can Corporations Sue?
To begin to answer this question, it makes sense to examine the definition of a corporation. A brief legal definition is “an organization formed with state governmental approval to act as an artificial person to carry on business.”
The definition goes on to state that as long as a corporation isn’t a non-profit, it can sue or be sued. It is its own legal entity under the law and has the right to sue for defamation when false statements are made about it just like an individual. If a corporation deems comments or remarks detrimental to its ability to generate profits, then a defamation lawsuit may follow.
However, lines often become blurred when the First Amendment comes into play, and many corporations have resorted to filing lawsuits for reasons other than damage to their reputation.
The Emergence of SLAPP Suits
“SLAPP” refers to “strategic lawsuits against public participation” and they have become an intimidation tactic some big businesses use to try and keep critics quiet after sharing a negative opinion. In many cases, the defendant is merely exercising his right to free speech, yet it is filed as a defamation suit even though no actual defamation exists under the legal definition of the term.
The goal on the part of the corporation is to bury the defendant in paperwork and legal fees and have them retract their statements. Quite often, plaintiffs in these cases will make a motion to strike the case because it is a matter of public concern. From that point, it is up to the corporation to show evidence that the suit will end in their favor in order for it to continue. Many states (including Georgia) have variations of an anti-SLAPP law in effect.
Tips for Avoiding a Defamation Lawsuit
There’s no telling if or when a corporation will exercise their right to sue for defamation based on remarks you’ve made online or other avenues, but you can limit the possibility by following certain tips. First, make sure anything you say or write is fair and accurate and is from reliable sources.
Also, be extremely careful when it comes to accusing any person or any corporation of committing a crime, and document any research that led you to your opinions. Keep in mind that defamation refers to false statements only, so if you stay within the realm of accuracy and have evidence to back up your claim, you should be on safe legal footing.