In the panel discussion I was part of this weekend, we were asked whether or not we worried about being held liable for anything we wrote. Some did worry about it, and said they just tried not to write anything they did not have adequate backup to support, while others said they just didn’t think much about it at all. The point was also raised that since we write mostly about politicians, who are public figures, the standard was different than that applied to private citizens not running for public office.
Considering cases like this one, I think I will be using the word “allegedly” a bit more frequently than in the past.
A Florida woman has been awarded $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against a Louisiana woman who posted messages on the Internet accusing her of being a “crook,” a “con artist” and a “fraud.”
Legal analysts say the Sept. 19 award by a jury in Broward County, Fla. — first reported Friday by the Daily Business Review — represents the largest such judgment over postings on an Internet blog or message board. Lyrissa Lidsky, a University of Florida law professor who specializes in free-speech issues, calls the award “astonishing.”
Lidsky says the case could represent a coming trend in court fights over online messages because the woman who won the damage award, Sue Scheff of Weston, Fla., pursued the case even though she knew the defendant, Carey Bock of Mandeville, La., has no hope of paying such an award. Bock, who had to leave her home for several months because of Hurricane Katrina, couldn’t afford an attorney and didn’t show up for the trial.
“What’s interesting about this case is that (Scheff) was so vested in being vindicated, she was willing to pay court costs,” Lidsky says. “They knew before trial that the defendant couldn’t pay, so what’s the point in going to the jury?”
Scheff says she wanted to make a point to those who unfairly criticize others on the Internet. “I’m sure (Bock) doesn’t have $1 million, let alone $11 million, but the message is strong and clear,” Scheff says. “People are using the Internet to destroy people they don’t like, and you can’t do that.”