Florida Jury: Be Careful What You Post on the Internet

It’s fascinating that this decision came on September 19 and virtually went unreported up until now, but a Florida woman has been awarded a startling $11.3 million in her “Internet defamation” lawsuit. Without question, this decision has startling ramifications for Internet denizens, bloggers, and message board posters, as it makes it quite clear that folks can’t just write whatever they want regardless of facts with total impunity. As reported by WebWire (emphasis mine throughout):

It is not often a person is awarded $11.3 million dollars from a jury of their peers. But in the case of Sue Scheff and her organization Parent’s Universal Resource Experts, Inc. (PURE) v. Carey Bock, the jury felt compelled to send a very strong message – which they have. Included in their $11.3 million dollar verdict, they awarded Sue Scheff and PURE $5 million in punitive damages. “The punitive damages speak volumes,” says Scheff, “it was set to punish the defendant for what she did to my children and me. Just because you don’t like someone or what they do, it does not give you carte blanche to post false statements about a person on the Internet.”

The article continued, documenting threatening Internet exchanges that are altogether too common to those that spend a lot of time at message boards or comment sections:

In the meantime, Carey Bock maliciously and intentionally started a campaign on Internet forums against Sue Scheff and her organization, PURE. According to a witness during trial, Ms. Bock’s animosity towards Ms. Scheff had to do with the fact Sue Scheff would not disclose the name of a minor who was raped and Ms. Bock needed this child’s name for a potential documentary she would profit from. Ms. Bock lost that opportunity and went on a campaign to destroy Sue Scheff and PURE. Bock accepted $12,500.00 from WWASPS’ attorney, the very organization she claimed harmed her two boys, and the organization that Sue Scheff successfully defeated in a jury trial in August 2004.

One of the witnesses testified Carey Bock was infuriated that Sue Scheff would not provide her with the information about the child. The jurors saw Ms. Bock’s e-mails and postings, one of which threatened: “Sue, you are going down, I bet you are scared to death!

There’s no question the jury was trying to make a serious statement:

After the trial was over, the jurors waited in the hall to meet with Ms. Scheff. They embraced her and told her that they wanted to send a message that people can’t use the Internet to invade a person’s privacy or to destroy lives. They encouraged Sue Scheff to continue her good work with children and families.

As Sgt. Esterhaus used to say, “Let’s be careful out there.”

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