The victory of Dominion Voting Systems in securing a $787.5 million settlement against Fox News over its false claims about the election demonstrates that even high-profile plaintiffs can prevail under today’s libel law, despite the higher bar a “public figure” must clear to win.
There has been some concern over whether the distinction between public and private figures has been so blurred by the courts that the prevailing NYT v. Sullivan standard may reach too far beyond its original application, making it too difficult for severely libeled private parties to obtain redress. But Dominion certainly qualified as the corporate equivalent of a “public figure.” And yet it managed, in the court of public opinion at least, to clear that high bar showing “actual malice” on the part of the defendant, Fox News.
Tuesday’s settlement – even though it was not a verdict – shows that it is still possible to win under Sullivan. What about the impact of this settlement on a free press? Will this lawsuit have a chilling effect? Probably not. The statement put out by Fox acknowledged the facts of the case, and those facts were egregious.
Overall, the outcome appears to be the functioning of a legal principle that worked as intended.