Techdirt: State Appeals Court Tosses Defamation Suit Against Lawyer Who Wrote About Teen Driver Who Injured His Client

An interesting sidebar to a case we've written about previously has surfaced via the ever-attentive Eric Goldman. Last month we covered a lawsuit against Snapchat brought by the victims of an car accident. The victims claim Snapchat is at least partially responsible for the injuries inflicted on Karen Maynard. The driver of the other vehicle, Christal McGee, was allegedly driving at over 100 mph when she hit Maynard's vehicle. The suit also alleged -- based on passenger statements, accident reconstruction, and police reports -- McGee was using Snapchat's "Speed" filter when the accident occurred.

The Georgia state appeals court allowed the case to proceed, but not on Section 230 grounds. It was remanded to the lower court to allow for more exploration of the issues at hand, noting that Section 230 likely does not apply to software created by Snapchat itself. Of course, dismissal may still be the outcome as it's going to be tough to prove Snapchat's creation of a filter was either negligence or contributory to the accident caused by McGee's unsafe driving.

The sidebar is this: Christal McGee has racked up a loss in Georgia Appeals Court in a case tied to the accident she caused. McGee sued Michael Neff -- the Maynards' legal rep in the lawsuit against Snapchat -- for defamation. According to McGee, Neff's blog post detailing the Snapchat lawsuit was defamatory. The lower court allowed the case to proceed, slapping aside Neff's anti-SLAPP motion.

The appeals court, however, finds [PDF] there was no defamation and certainly nothing written with actual malice. (Emphasis in the original.)

Neff argues that he acted in good faith at the time he published the article to his law firm’s website because he relied upon the police report, the report from the accident reconstructionist and the verified affidavit of Heather McCarty. This evidence was known to Neff prior to the publication of his article on April 26, 2016. In its ruling that “[t]here is evidence from which a jury could find that some of [the statements in the article] were false,” the trial court cited to affidavits signed after the publication of the article. This, and other evidence cited to by McGee that was not known to Neff until after the publication of the article, do not factor into his good faith at the time of publication.

McGee argued Neff's statements were malicious because the affidavits he used to write his article weren't signed at the point the post went live. The appeals court finds this does not make his use of the affidavits' contents malicious, especially since some of this testimony was already included in available police reports.

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