A rise in successful high profile defamation and privacy cases in the US is of note, as juries move to awarding huge sums in damages.
The latest mammoth US$787m settlement by Fox, of a defamation claim brought by Dominion Voting Systems, is the latest in a series of victorious “media law” claims, in a jurisdiction where commentators sometimes overstate the protection of the 1st amendment when meritorious claims are brought.
The Dominion/Fox case caps 18 months of high-profile successes for defamation and privacy claimants, including:
- Depp v Heard, 2022, Defamation
A jury at the Virginia Circuit Court awarded Mr Depp US$10.35m for 3 counts of Defamation, and Ms Heard US$2m for 1 count of Defamation.
- Various Claimants v Alex Jones, 2022, Defamation
A Connecticut court awarded a combined US$1.4 billion in a Connecticut court, (split between various parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook School, against the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.) A further US$50m was awarded by a Texas Jury over a similar claim.
- Bryant & Chester v LA County 2022, Privacy
A jury returned a US$31m verdict against LA County after deputies and firefighters took and shared photographs of famed Basketball player Kobe Bryant’s death scene.
The Dominion/Fox proceedings have highlighted the different approaches taken in the USA and UK to defamation claims, and there is no doubt that the bar to a successful claim in the USA remains higher. However the very substantial damages and punitive damages awards in the USA remain attractive to Claimants with strong cases, and contrast with the relatively low level of damages awarded in UK courts, where the issue of vindication is often the primary motivation.
US proceedings also allow for early and extensive disclosure opportunities, a fact highly material in the Dominion case, after internal messages between Fox presenters and executives were disclosed and proved damaging to their defence, and reputation.
(Attorneys in the above cases: Susman Godfrey, Clare Locke, & Farnan for Dominion; Brown Rudnick for Mr Depp; Koskoff (and others) for The Sandy Hook Families: Wilson Sonsini for Bryant)
Fox pays high price to end bruising Dominion defamation case