How Long Do I Have to File a Defamation Lawsuit in Georgia?

Georgia's defamation statute of limitations sets a strict time limit on your right to have the state's civil court system consider your libel or slander lawsuit.

If you're thinking about bringing a defamation case in Georgia's civil court system, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations for these kinds of lawsuits. Read on for the details on the filing deadline in Georgia, why it's so important, and when the deadline might be extended.

One Year is the Standard Deadline for Filing a Defamation Lawsuit in Georgia

You have one year to file a defamation lawsuit in Georgia, according to Georgia Code section 9-3-33, which sets this deadline for the filing of any civil action seeking a remedy for "for injuries to the reputation."

For purposes of Georgia's defamation statute of limitations, the "clock" begins to run on the date on which the defamatory statement is first made. If the statement is later repeated, copied, or republished verbatim and in the same manner, the one-year clock probably won't reset, and the plaintiff likely won't be entitled to bring another lawsuit. What usually matters is the date on which the defamatory statement was first made or first published, for purposes of the running of the statute of limitations, and for purposes of asking a court for defamation damages.

In Georgia, as in most states, defamation can take one of two forms: libel or slander.

According to Georgia Code section 51-5-1, libel is "a false and malicious defamation of another, expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs, tending to injure the reputation of the person and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule." In plain English, that means libel is a false, harmful statement that is written down, or published in print or online (including via social media or even in the "comments" section of a web page).

Georgia Code section 51-5-4 defines slander as "oral defamation" (a spoken, false and harmful statement) that links the subject of the statement to certain criminal activity, the having of certain diseases, or a "debasing act"; or that harms the subject's trade or profession; or that results in "special damage" that would be expected to flow naturally from the statement.

Note: When a statement meets the definition of slander in terms of subject matter and impact, but it's written or otherwise published (making it libel), it's considered "defamation per se" in Georgia, meaning harm to the plaintiff is presumed.

Learn more about the elements of a defamation claim and the difference between libel versus slander.

Extending Georgia’s Statute of Limitations Deadline for Defamation Lawsuits

Georgia law identifies a number of scenarios that could serve to delay the start of the statute of limitations "clock" for potential defamation lawsuits (or pause the clock after it has already started), effectively extending the one-year filing deadline set by Georgia Statutes section 9-3-33.

Here are a few examples of circumstances that are likely to modify the timeline:

  • when the defendant (the person who allegedly made the defamatory statement) was (or is) out of the state for any part of the one-year period, starting from the date on which the statement was made (Georgia Code section 9-3-94)
  • when the plaintiff (the subject of the statement) is "legally incompetent because of intellectual disability or mental illness" at the time the statement is made (Georgia Code 9-3-90), and
  • if the plaintiff is under the age of 18 at the time of the allegedly defamatory statement (Georgia Code 9-3-90).

What If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

If more than a year has passed since the defamatory statement was made, but you try to file a defamation lawsuit in Georgia's courts anyway, the court will almost certainly dismiss your case. If that happens, you’'ll have lost your right to ask any court for a legal remedy for the defamation.

It's important to note that the one-year Georgia statute of limitations isn't just a factor if you've decided to take your defamation case to court. It’s also crucial to your position if you’re negotiating an out-of-court settlement with the person who made the statement. If the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and the other side knows that your filing a lawsuit is now a procedural impossibility, you'll have lost all your leverage.

If you have questions about how Georgia’s statute of limitations applies to your potential defamation lawsuit -- especially if the one-year deadline has passed or is looming -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Georgia attorney.

Learn more about defamation, libel, and slander.

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