What is reportedly the largest verdict to date in a case involving blog or message-board postings on the internet was returned in a Florida case this month: $11.3 million. Some observers think the verdict represents a trend in this type of case and that this decision itself will stimulate more litigation over online postings.
The size of the award may well be skewed because the defendant was unable to pay for a lawyer to defend herself. But that fact, too, could become a common factor in this type of case. According to news reports, Carey Bock of Mandeville, La. posted negative messages on a website that serves parents of troubled teens. Bock’s comments were about the plaintiff, Sue Scheff of Weston, Fla. Scheff operates a referral service to help parents of troubled children, and Bock accused Scheff of being a “crook” and a “fraud.”
Because many internet postings are made by individuals rather than companies, and because persons making postings may be pulled into litigation in distant jurisdictions, it may not be unusual that this kind of case will be lightly defended, if defended at all. Bock’s difficulty defending herself was further complicated by Hurricane Katrina.
Another interesting facet of this case is that punitive damages constituted almost half of the total award. An insurance policy that covers punitive damages has long been of key importance to defamation defendants.
The Media Law Resource Center has documented more than 50 blogging-type cases across the U.S. One case, from South Dakota, resulted in a $3 million award that withstood appeal.
The availability of specific coverage for blogging exposures appears to be very thin across the marketplace, though some companies may include the exposures in a broader policy. Euclid Managers can provide insurance protection to Corporate Bloggers through our coverage forms. For more information about blogging exposures, read our previous posts : Hot Prospects for Internet Liability Insurance and Corporate Blogging Adds One More Risk to a Company’s Internet Exposures.