Media & Communications Law

Jewell’s Libel Suit May Survive

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Libel plaintiff Richard Jewell and a defendant who identified him as a suspect in the bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park have both died, but the lawsuit may continue.

Jewell’s 10-year-old libel and defamation suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution alleges the newspaper had a duty to investigate whether the information it received from law enforcement was in fact true. Suits against several other media outlets have settled.

Georgia law allows a substitution in libel cases after the death of the plaintiff, according the Fulton County Daily Report. Jewell, who died yesterday from kidney problems at the age of 44, is survived by his wife and mother.

Much of the case was dismissed last year, but one claim based on reports about a 911 call is still pending, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports. “The newspaper has contended that at the time it published its reports Jewell was a suspect, so the articles were accurate,” the AJC says. “The newspaper also has asserted that it was not reckless or malicious in its reports.”

Jewell is the security guard who discovered the backpack that contained the bomb. Early reports identified Jewell as a suspect; nine years later, anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to planting the bomb.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, who co-wrote the stories that first identified Jewell as a suspect, died at home in 2001.

Jewell’s lawyer, L. Lin Wood Jr., said Jewell’s death took him by surprise. “I knew from talking to some folks yesterday that he had health problems … but I didn’t expect to get a call today that he had died,” he told the legal newspaper. “I can’t even talk about it. I can’t even think.”

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