(STACKER) – Name-calling and profanity may seem like problems that should simply go unnoticed, but when rumors get out of hand, they can affect a person’s life. Particularly for those whose jobs depend in part on their reputation, rampant gossip can cause financial hardship, not to mention psychological damage. Suppose a person decides to take legal action to recover their losses from such a circumstance. In that case, it becomes a libel suit, during which the person has to prove that slander or libel has occurred.
Defamation case adjudications consist of two parts. The first includes real or compensatory damages, which are intended to cover the losses suffered. For example, if a business loses customers because of comments made by another party, the business would be entitled to actual damages in connection with the loss of those customers. The second includes punitive damages, which punish the party who made the libelous or slanderous comments.
While there is no definitive ranking of the largest libel case awards in US history, Stacker compiled a list of recent high-profile libel cases and compared the payouts to those of Alex Jones, a broadcaster. right-wing radio station known for spreading conspiracy theories, using a variety of news and other sources.
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JPMorgan Chase and former bank broker: $1.4 million
On February 4, 2022, an unusual circumstance occurred in which former JPMorgan Chase employee Dustin B. Luckett won a defamation case against the financial firm. It was determined that Luckett had been wrongfully terminated due to rumors that he had provided improperly notarized documents. Although Luckett initially requested a $5.6 million settlement, he received a lesser settlement that included being reinstated as a Chase employee.
Cardi B and Tasha K: $4 million
YouTuber Latasha Kebe, known online as Tasha K, has been ordered to pay rapper Cardi B $4 million after fueling and perpetuating rumors that the rapper had been a sex worker and drug addict and contracted herpes. Cardi B asked Kebe to remove approximately 40 videos containing false information, which Kebe refused before taking legal action. During court proceedings in January 2022, Kebe admitted to knowingly spreading misinformation.
Roy Moore and the Senate Majority PAC: $8.2 million
Republican and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was awarded $8.2 million in August 2022 after a federal jury ruled that the Democratic-aligned Senate majority PAC made defamatory statements about him. The defamatory comments were made in a television advertisement during the 2017 US Senate race. Although Moore won this lawsuit, he lost several other defamation lawsuits he filed, including one against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: $10 million
In a high-profile case widely discussed on the Internet, Johnny Depp received a $10 million settlement in his lawsuit against Amber Heard, who also received $2 million. The former couple accused each other of ruining each other’s lives and reputations during a week-long trial that ended in May 2022, sparking debates about possible domestic abuse perpetrated by both parties. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece written by Heard addressing how women who speak out against domestic violence are treated in the US.
Oberlin College and Gibson’s Bakery: $44.4 million
The summer of 2019 ended a year-long ordeal for Gibson’s Bakery when it was awarded $44.4 million for defamation perpetrated by Oberlin College. The case was sparked by the robbery at the bakery, which led to allegations that the small business was engaging in racial discrimination. Student protests ensued, which Gibson’s Bakery claims were supported by Oberlin.
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Lisa Sulka and Skip Hoagland: $50 million
Bluffton, South Carolina, Mayor Lisa Sulka sued Skip Hoagland after he sent a series of emails throughout 2015 and 2017 accusing her of criminal activity and unfitness for office. The emails were received by numerous people, including public officials and the attorney general. Sulka noted that the psychological impact of Hoagland’s comments was the most significant and she was awarded $50 million in combined actual and punitive damages in February 2022.
Alex Jones and Sandy Hook families: approximately $1.5 billion
Marking one of the largest libel awards in US history, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was ordered to pay approximately $1 billion in actual damages to the families of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting. after he spread lies and misinformation about the event and those involved. including the false narrative that both the victims and their families were paid actors. The case, presided over by Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis, sent a strong message about the viability of Jones’ political style. However, it may not necessarily discourage others from continuing on the same path. On November 10, 2022, Judge Bellis added $473 million in punitive damages, bringing the total owed by Jones to just under $1.5 billion. Jones has publicly stated that he does not have the money to pay for the damages.