ERIC Number: ED243153
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1984-Aug
Reference Count: 0
The Legitimacy of Punitive Damages in Media Libel Cases.
Thomas, James H.
The constitutionality of punitive damage awards in media defamation litigation was examined through a review of federal and state libel case law since the 1964 Supreme Court decision in "New York Times v. Sullivan." Using the opinions of various courts and justices and studies of libel litigation, a number of areas bearing on the issue were explored, including (1) the unpredictability of punitive awards, both in size and the lack of standards used by juries in determining them; (2) the effect this unpredictability, along with high damage awards, has on media self-censorship; and (3) the effect of the high cost of defending against libel litigation through the entire appeals process has had on self-censorship. In addition, the state's basic interest in libel litigation--to compensate for damage to reputation--was examined to determine if punitive damages met or exceeded the requirements of that interest. The major findings of the examination were that punitive damage awards in media libel cases definitely have resulted in fostering an atmosphere of self-censorship. In addition, the increasing frequency of libel litigation that must be pursued through the appellate courts has added prohibitively high legal defence costs to the threat of punitive damages. Finally, the examination revealed that punitive damage awards may go beyond the basic interest of the state in libel litigation and may be interfering with editorial freedom rather than vindicating damaged reputations. (FL)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Information Analyses; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Libel; Punitive Damages; Self Censorship
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (67th, Gainesville, FL, August 5-8, 1984).