Should Bloggers Worry About Libel Lawsuits? Probably Not So Much

The Blog Herald has an article, Hey Blogger, Are You Insured, suggesting that bloggers might want to consider libel insurance as a protection against potential lawsuits, even though it estimates the cost of such insurance might cost around $1,000/year. To bolster its case, The Blog Herald cites a WTTX-TV report suggesting that bloggers are being successfully sued for libel, and for comments that are fairly ordinary and on their face appear non-libelous at that,

Cases against bloggers are growing as the number of bloggers rises, according to the Media Law Resource Center, which posts legal actions against bloggers. Damages, too, can be stiff.

This year, a court awarded $129,794 to an Ohio woman after a blogger said her property was haunted, reports Media Law. Another blogger was ordered to pay $1.8 million after referring to someone as a “failed lawyer.”

Huge awards for calling someone a “failed lawyer” or insinuating a property is haunted? Oh noes…better run out and get libel insurance right away, right? Maybe not.

What WTTX-TV leaves out is that both of those cases were won because the party being sued never showed up in court to contest the charges. Since the defendants failed to appear, the judge in each case entered a default judgment against the blogger. In fact in the haunting case, the owner of the property in question also named the author of a book that made similar statements as a defendant as well. The judge dismissed the lawsuit against the author — who bothered to appear — but entered a default judgement against the blogger.

In other words, you may not necessarily need libel insurance, but you damn well need to make sure you or your lawyer appear in court after receiving notice that a lawsuit has been filed.

But are there other cases of libel lawsuits against bloggers? Yes, and according to the Media Law Resource Center they’ve been able to find a grand total of one — that’s right, just one — lawsuit against a blogger that went to trial and resulted in a monetary judgment against the blogger. And, in that case, the blogger more than deserved it.

In that case, blogger David Milum had a dispute with an attorney over fees from a previous case. So Milum did the rational thing and alleged on his blog that the attorney had bribed a judge in order to receive favorable treatment for a client. That case went to trial, and Milum was ordered to pay $50,000 in damages to the attorney.

Which was the right decision since Milum’s claims were clearly libelous.

So, if you are going to make up stories accusing judges and lawyers of corruption or making up other pernicious falsehoods then, yes, you probably should take out a libel insurance policy. But for ordinary critical statements of public figures and semi-public figures, there doesn’t seem to be any great rash of libel lawsuits in general, much less successful ones.

Which probably explains this paragraph from the Blog Herald story,

Blogging has become such a risk, that several well-known insurance agencies have begun including libel protections under certain homeowner’s and umbrella policies.

Certainly — and I bet they’re also more than happy to sell you life insurance for your children. That’s money in the bank right there.