Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Libel Awards Soaring in Suits against Media

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Libel Awards Soaring in Suits against Media

Article excerpt

Libel awards soaring in suits against media

Libel awards against the media are blasting off into space, according to a survey by the media-supported Libel Defense Resource Center.

The center's biennial survey has found that damage awards against the media in the last two years have averaged 10 times the judgments in the previous two years.

LDRC, a New York City-based research organization funded by media groups, said the average libel award in 1989-90 jumped to $4.5 million from $432,000 in 1987-88.

The average award for the previous eight years was $1.5 million.

Also, media defendants are losing a larger share of libel trials, the survey said. The loss rate rose to 69% in the last two years, from 58% in the two prior years. The eight-year loss rate was 72%.

So far in 1991 the loss rate in libel and privacy cases against the media has been soaring along with the size of damage awards.

LDRC general counsel Henry Kaufman said that in six reported libel trials this year, the media won only one, and the average damage award was near $20 million.

Before 1980 there were only two known libel awards of $1 million or more, the center said.

The latest survey also found 30% of the libel verdicts over $1 million, compared with 14% in the two prior years, and more verdicts over $10 million, 15% compared with none in the two prior years.

The survey also found a dramatic increase in the size of punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants, as opposed to compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate plaintiffs for loss of income or reputation. …

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