Reynolds v. Pegler
Libel: Are Large Settlements Deterrents?
Financial awards in libel cases have become astronomical in recent years. Does the potential high cost of libel suits prevent publishers from printing controversial material?
The potential financial damage such a suit could cost a publisher or broadcaster must make many think twice about publishing certain material. A jury awarded former Texas district attorney, Victor Feazell, $58 million in a suit against a television station. Feazell announced after the decision that, "This verdict sends a message to the rest of the media to get your facts straight." Settling libel cases involving millions of dollars could literally put small publishers and broadcasters out of business. Companies like the MMR Group, who in 1997 sued Dow Jones & Co. for libel and won a settlement for $220.7 million, may never see their settlement money after the multiple appeals that big companies can afford to file.
Conversely, since the 1964 decision of New York Times v. Sullivan, public officials and public figures have had a greater burden upon them to prove the falsity of information, or that the material was published with a "reckless disregard" for the truth. Large media organizations with deep financial pockets, may be less likely to hesitate than smaller ones in publishing questionable information.