Defamation Headline Torts

Couple Charged with Sexual Assault Gets $13.78 Million in Defamation Action

There are two big problems with filing defamation lawsuits (obviously, without looking at the facts of the various potential cases): 1) Defamation lawsuits are very difficult to win, and 2) Even if the plaintiff gets a judgment in his/her favor, the damages awarded tend to be small.  But there are always exceptions to the rule.

Recently, a jury awarded $13.78 million to the plaintiffs in a defamation action filed in Texas roughly 3 years ago.  Under Texas law, the plaintiffs had to prove that there was a false statement made about them, published to a third party, without legal excuse, which damaged their reputation.  The plaintiffs had been charged with sexual assault.  Thereafter, individuals posting anonymously on a website’s discussion forum posted comments that the couple found to be defamatory in nature.  That was the foundation for the lawsuit that the plaintiffs filed and for which they recently received a handsome judgment.

In all, 6 defendants were named in the lawsuit, all posting comments in anonymity on the website  The anonymity veil was destroyed once the judge appointed to the case ordered Topix to release information that identified all of the once anonymous commentators.  The people posting on the forum called the plaintiffs phrases such as “Child molesters,” “Rapists,” “Drug dealers,” and “Herpes infested.”  Yet, the plaintiffs were found not guilty of the sexual assault accusation.

What kind of damage can those anonymous posts do to a couple’s reputation and credibility?  The husband is a prominent attorney and the wife is the owner of a spa.  The accusations on the forum destroyed their reputations and their businesses and certainly caused quite a deal of pain and suffering.  And a jury agreed, awarding the couple the large $13.78 million in damages.

Sometimes plaintiffs do win defamation lawsuits.  And sometimes, the damages are quite large.