Woman awarded $11.3 million in online defamation case


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Bartholomew Roberts
October 12, 2006, 08:29 PM
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."

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-10-10-internet-defamation-case_x.htm

The defendant in this case was actually a victim of Hurrican Katrina. She had hired her own lawyer but soon ran out of funds to pay the lawyer. So, she just ignored the trial dates and offered no defense. The jury awarded the plaintiff $11.3 million, most of which she will never collect; but that defendant will be in debt the rest of her natural life.

This story also serves as a reminder why the Forum Rules (http://www.thehighroad.org/code-of-conduct.html) at THR not only make for a nicer environment; but help protect the users from their own thoughtlessness on occasion.

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JohnBT
October 12, 2006, 09:03 PM
This appears to be more a case of talking bad about a business than a personal thing. Businesses can get very touchy about badmouthing and lost income.

Nevertheless, if you tell the truth about someone you have a fighting chance. Of course, you have to show up for your court date. Duh.

John

MechAg94
October 13, 2006, 10:57 AM
I don't have a problem with the case in general, but the circumstances are a little strange.
Did the defendant have the real opportunity to travel to Florida to defend herself? I am assuming she was informed of the court date but they don't really say. Do you have a right to court appointed counsel in civil cases.
The article really didn't say anything that would allow me to judge the merrits of the case anyway. $11 million is a lot for some internet posts. The article didn't really get into what was said.

MechAg94
October 13, 2006, 11:01 AM
Some might want to think about this the next time they get on this or another forum and bad mouth a gun shop. If you have to do so, make sure you stick with the facts and don't exagerate or skip over details like something you forgot to do. I have seen some rather emotional posts before that invite something like this.

Bartholomew Roberts
October 13, 2006, 11:06 AM
The woman acknowledged receiving the court date; but indicated she thought she didn't have to show because she lost her lawyer IIRC.

Thin Black Line
October 13, 2006, 11:35 AM
Read the article and am not sure how this affects firearms, but I'll keep my
finger off the "thread closed" trigger in case there's some discussion about
how this could affect the future of this country. ;)

carpettbaggerr
October 13, 2006, 01:35 PM
Jury awards $11.3M over defamatory Internet posts
Updated 10/11/2006 10:53 AM ET


By Laura Parker, USA TODAY
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."

The dispute between the two women arose after Bock asked Scheff for help in withdrawing Bock's twin sons from a boarding school in Costa Rica. Bock had disagreed with her ex-husband over how to deal with the boys' behavior problems. Against Bock's wishes, he had sent the boys to the boarding school.

Scheff, who operates a referral service called Parents Universal Resource Experts, says she referred Bock to a consultant who helped Bock retrieve her sons. Afterward, Bock became critical of Scheff and posted negative messages about her on the Internet site Fornits.com, where parents with children in boarding schools for troubled teens confer with one another.

In 2003, Scheff sued Bock for defamation. Bock hired a lawyer, but he left the case when she no longer could afford to pay him.

When Katrina hit in August 2005, Bock's house was flooded and she moved temporarily to Texas before returning to Louisiana last June. Court papers that Scheff and her attorney David H. Pollack mailed to Bock were returned to Pollack's office in Miami.

After Bock didn't offer a defense, a Broward Circuit Court judge found in favor of Scheff. A jury then heard Scheff's arguments about damages. Pollack did not seek a specific amount for the harm he says Scheff's business suffered.

"Even with no opposing counsel and no defendant there, $11 million is a huge amount," says Pollack, adding that Scheff is considering whether to try to collect any money from Bock. "The jury determined this was a significant enough issue. It's not just somebody's feelings are hurt; it's somebody's reputation is ruined."

Bock says that when she moved back to her repaired house over the summer, she knew the trial was approaching but did not know the date. She says she doesn't have the money to pay the judgment or hire a lawyer to appeal it. She adds that if the goal of Scheff's lawsuit was to stifle what Bock says online, it worked.

"I don't feel like I can express my opinions," Bock says. "Only one side of the story was told in court. Nobody heard my side."
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-10-10-internet-defamation-case_x.htm

No judgement amount asked for, and the jury comes up with $11,300,000. Nice. Better than a scratch-off ticket. I really doubt the entire business brings in even a few hundred K, let alone a million/year. I have trouble believing the defamation was equal to 5 or 10 years of income.
I'll keep my
finger off the "thread closed" trigger in case there's some discussion about
how this could affect the future of this country.They make you a Moderator, TBL? Need to get your member status updated. Congratulations, I think........

Thin Black Line
October 13, 2006, 02:47 PM
LOL, no just an inside joke for Bart. He's da man.....

JJpdxpinkpistols
October 13, 2006, 02:54 PM
Looking at this case as the definitive case for online defamation is tantamount to looking at Miller V US as the definitive case for firearms possession.

There are some serious issues that came up here: namely, that the defendant wasn't present, and was without counsel. This clearly demonstrates only one thing: that a lot of money will go to a plaintiff if they claim defemation without anyone there to prove or defend against such an accusation.

I think we are better served to look at Max V. Dimeo for guidance. This was properly adjudicated with counsel with both parties present.

Sorry, but I spend a lot of time deciding what is and is not libel on a board I own full of litigous media types.

Wesker
October 13, 2006, 03:32 PM
What crap. Free speech, the internet. Those two things mean I can say what I want about who I want and nobody can sue or take any 'legal' recourse.

The plantiff is also PATHETIC and immature for pursuing a frivilous lawsuit because she got butt-hurt over what some person said about her on the inernet. Thats right SUE SCHEFF, I CALLED YOU A PATHETIC CHILD for wanting to further ruin the life of someone who already has nothing.

I hope Sue dies in a car fire.

"The jury determined this was a significant enough issue. It's not just somebody's feelings are hurt; it's somebody's reputation is ruined."

Gah, since this is Florida we're talking about I'm sure the entire jury consisted of folks 65+ years who think the internet is a series of tubes. The internet is not some magical thing that will instantly cut into FOX NEWS! and display what one person says about another person. Especially since this happened on a third party website, Forntis.com. Apparently the moderation on that site isn't too good if it allowed school ground bickering and name calling to take place in a community of users whose goal is to confer about their children gone away to boarding schools. Had moderators done their jobs this most likely wouldn't have happened.

However I'm not blaming the moderation of Forntis.com, I'm just awash with bewilderment.

BrokenPaw
October 13, 2006, 03:43 PM
"People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that." - Scheff
As opposed to using the Judicial System to destroy people they don't like. That's obviously ok. :banghead:

On the other hand, the defendant in this case is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, either:

"I don't feel like I can express my opinions," Bock says. "Only one side of the story was told in court. Nobody heard my side."
Golly, could that be because you didn't tell your side? In court? Like you were supposed to?

Even without a lawyer, I'd rather defend myself in against a lawsuit than just not show up and essentially hand the verdict to the plaintiff. :scrutiny:

-BP

Bartholomew Roberts
October 13, 2006, 03:53 PM
LOL, no just an inside joke for Bart. He's da man.....

I thought that the story served as a nice reminder to everyone that things you say on the Internet can have real world consequences. It probably does flirt with the line as far as being off-topic since it doesn't relate to firearms and has only a tenuous relation to civil liberties.

It is pretty relevant to Internet discussion forums though. Imagine being in the shoes of the defendant here - she has to hire a lawyer (and in another state) to answer a claim that may not even have a solid basis in fact. All it takes is someone who is upset enough that they are willing to pay court costs and facts that might support a pleading.

Free speech, the internet. Those two things mean I can say what I want about who I want and nobody can sue or take any 'legal' recourse.

That is a novel legal interpretation of the First Amendment; but you should be aware that it is completely at odds with current law on the subject. Under current law, the right to free speech does not include freedom from civil liability if you libel, slander or defame someone.

Jorg Nysgerrig
October 13, 2006, 05:22 PM
What crap. Free speech, the internet. Those two things mean I can say what I want about who I want and nobody can sue or take any 'legal' recourse.

What's the old saying, "Your right to swing your arms ends where my nose begins"?

As I recall, you were the same guy that thought carrying concealed on a military installation while you delivered pizza was good idea.

What crap, indeed.

Autolycus
October 14, 2006, 02:36 AM
Interesting article. Perhaps I should check all my posts and make sure nobody can sue me?:confused:

Malone LaVeigh
October 14, 2006, 12:21 PM
The relation to civil liberties:

We have all of the civil liberties we can afford to pay for in this country.

DerringerUser
October 14, 2006, 01:13 PM
Our free speech is being flushed down the toilet as we know it. That is really disgusting, it may even be fake, but im not making any accusations. Where are the ACLU when you need them, to defend this poor woman?

Another Katrina victim let down by our @#%$ up legal system.

DerringerUser
October 14, 2006, 01:17 PM
What crap. Free speech, the internet. Those two things mean I can say what I want about who I want and nobody can sue or take any 'legal' recourse.

The plantiff is also PATHETIC and immature for pursuing a frivilous lawsuit because she got butt-hurt over what some person said about her on the inernet. Thats right SUE SCHEFF, I CALLED YOU A PATHETIC CHILD for wanting to further ruin the life of someone who already has nothing.

I hope Sue dies in a car fire.



"The jury determined this was a significant enough issue. It's not just somebody's feelings are hurt; it's somebody's reputation is ruined."


Gah, since this is Florida we're talking about I'm sure the entire jury consisted of folks 65+ years who think the internet is a series of tubes. The internet is not some magical thing that will instantly cut into FOX NEWS! and display what one person says about another person. Especially since this happened on a third party website, Forntis.com. Apparently the moderation on that site isn't too good if it allowed school ground bickering and name calling to take place in a community of users whose goal is to confer about their children gone away to boarding schools. Had moderators done their jobs this most likely wouldn't have happened.

However I'm not blaming the moderation of Forntis.com, I'm just awash with bewilderment.

Agree 100%, very well said.

People need to stop being so immature, and do something about it themselves, like confront the person, not sue them for $11 mil.

Tommygunn
October 14, 2006, 01:25 PM
I believe the John Peter Zenger trial established that the truth is the best defense for slander 200 years ago. But, first, what is said MUST be the truth. And, obviously, you must show up to the court to defend yourself in a civil suit. Don't, and despite the virtues of your case, and you will lose by default. That's just the way the system works.
I'm not defending the defendant in THIS case. She may whine all she likes about not being "heard," but as an earlier poster said, that's her fault, she had her chance -- in court, where it belonged!

the 22 junkie
October 15, 2006, 02:18 AM
http://pr0n.encyclopediadramatica.com/images/b/b2/Seriousbusiness2.jpg

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