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$11.3 million damage award to chill bloggers?

Per the Washington Times, a Florida Jury awarded a woman $11.3 million in damages in a defamation law suit where another woman posted online messages referring to her as a ‘crook,’ a ‘con artist’ and a ‘fraud,’ among other things. According to the complaint, the women had a falling out after the plaintiff hired the defendant’s company in removing the plaintiff’s twin sons from a disciplinary school in Costa Rica where her ex-husband had enrolled them without her approval.

Michael J. Songer, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a partner at D.C. law firm Crowell & Moring believes their may be an impact on blog publishers.

This case sends a signal that if you were going to write blog entries, that you need to, like any other journalist, be aware of what you write. It could have a chilling effect when people have to sit down and worry about losing their house.

There’s a little sensationalism to this story. The defendant, who lost her home to Katrina, never showed up for the trial. With her house gone already, it’s highly unlikely she has any money from which the plaintiff could collect the judgment. If contested, the result may have been different.

You can reduce the chance of being sued dramatically by using a little common sense. One, do not accuse people of crimes, it’s defamation per se. Two, make a point of rendering only your opinion, as opposed to making statements of fact. Generally, people are entitled to their own opinion.

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