Rolling Stone Settles Fraternity's Gang Rape Defamation Case for $1.65M

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Rolling Stone published their story, "A Rape on Campus," in November 2014, about an alleged ritualistic rape in a fraternity on the University of Virginia's campus, the series of events that unfolded landed the rock n' roll magazine in seriously costly legal trouble. Nearly three years later, the last chapter in their legal saga may finally be closing as they've agreed to pay the fraternity named in the story $1.65 million. Notably, a lawsuit filed by the individual members of the lawsuit was dismissed.

Last year, a jury awarded a $3 million verdict in the defamation lawsuit filed by the then dean, Nicole Eramo, against Rolling Stone. Eramo alleged that the magazine portrayed her as callous and uncaring when it came to the alleged sexual assault victim at the center of the story. The case actually settled this year for a confidential amount while the verdict was being appealed by Rolling Stone.

Organizational Defamation

Normally, defamation claims are thought of as applying only to individuals, but groups, organizations, and businesses can also fall victim to defamation. In the context of a business, the claim is sometimes referred to as commercial disparagement. The elements for a defamation claim brought by individuals and entities are essentially the same.

To prove defamation, a plaintiff generally must show that an untrue statement was published about them by the defendant, and that the publication caused them damages or losses. When a public figure, business, or entity, is involved, there may be more leniency involved when it comes to what is considered defamation or disparagement. For a public figure to prove a defamation claim, they must also prove the false statement was made with "actual malice."

What Is "Actual Malice"?

A person who intends to harm a public figure or entity with their publication of a false statement will clearly have acted with actual malice. However, in the context of defamation, the term "actual malice" does not necessarily require a hateful, or spiteful, motive. A person, or publisher, who makes a false statement with a "reckless disregard for the truth" can be found to have acted with actual malice as well.

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