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Are there any reasons to only sue a newspaper (the corporation) for libel and not the individual reporter who libeled you?

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    This needs a jurisdiction tag. For instance, in many countries suing an employee of a company for his work is highly unusual; the employer is strongly responsible for the employers. – MSalters Nov 25 '19 at 7:53
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    Successful suits are quite rare, but here's a recent example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monroe_v_Hopkins - note that the award of costs is much larger than the award of damages. – pjc50 Nov 25 '19 at 9:22
  • Depending on jurisdiction/country. In some there is a law that force you to sue the newspaper as the publisher and they have editor-in-chief who is responsible (or to take responsibility) for publishing content. – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 25 '19 at 10:28
  • @pjc50 True, but that was in relation to a tweet Hopkins had written on her personal account - not an article she had written for a publisher. – Tyzoid Nov 25 '19 at 20:15
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In addition to the other answer which, correctly, notes that the publisher is more likely to be in a position of being able to pay any damages awarded, there is one other good reason to sue the publisher rather than the journalist...

The journalist cannot print a retraction or correction with the same reach as the original article - only the publisher can do that, and they won’t necessarily do it just because the journalist wants them to.

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    I think there is a third reason, which is if punitive damages are awardable the amount awarded will be higher for a wealthier defendant. Perhaps you could add this to your answer too? – Will Nov 23 '19 at 21:52
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    @Will can you give an example of a jurisdiction that it written into law that a less wealthy defendant can get off more lightly than a more wealthy one? – Moo Nov 24 '19 at 3:49
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    @Moo I'm not sure of any jurisdiction that gives it statutory provision but there is a logical link between the affordability of an award of damages for a defendant and its punitive effect, and this seems to be reflected in common law practice. – Will Nov 24 '19 at 18:01
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    @Moo In England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is evidently a factor in practice irrespective of the existence of explicit declarations to this effect, and in the US there is extensive history of courts considering defendant wealth when awarding punitive damages although a 2003 Supreme Court ruling purports to outlaw either all such cases or all but a narrowly-defined few of such cases, depending on who you ask. – Will Nov 24 '19 at 18:01
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    @HagenvonEitzen punitive damages are not compensation. Accidental damage seems extremely unlikely to attract an award of punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages, but if for whatever reason you suffer a tort where it is deemed to be necessary to award punitive damages then in at least some jurisdictions it's great news for you if your tortfeasor is Bill Gates. By definition punitive damages seek to deter or cause retributive suffering that simply wouldn't be effective against Bill Gates if they weren't in the millions. – Will Nov 24 '19 at 19:44
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English Law answer:

Both the newspaper that published and the individual who wrote the defamatory statement may be sued for defamation. You may choose to sue one or sue both as co-defendants.

The most common reason to sue the publication over the individual writer is because the publication is more likely to pay damages.

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    Would the jury be more likely to award lower damages if a Plaintiff sues both the writer and the newspaper vs just the newspaper? (since they could have more sympathy with the individual) – Gill Hamel Nov 23 '19 at 16:01
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    Of course, the danger of not suing the individual is that if it turns out that they were act outside of the scope of employment, you get nothing as a Plaintiff, right? – Gill Hamel Nov 23 '19 at 16:02
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    @GillHamel If the newspaper published the reporter's story, it's rather difficult to claim that the reporter was acting outside the scope of their employment. – Acccumulation Nov 23 '19 at 17:57
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    Also, the reporter did not publish and distribute the story — the newspaper did. – jeffronicus Nov 23 '19 at 21:17
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    Defamation in english law requires the defamer to communicate the defamatory statement to a third party. In the case of a newspaper, it communicates the statement to the public, in the case of an individual journalist, he communicates it to his newspaper employer. Both parties are liable – Shazamo Morebucks Nov 24 '19 at 7:55
5

If you sued the reporter alone, and he has any insurance, the insurance company will certainly force the newspaper to sit at the defense table as a co-defendant. The newspaper has deeper pockets and was ultimately responsible for editing and selecting the reporter's article for publication.

Further, the newspaper may willingly leap to the defendant's table, as a matter of protecting reporters. Imagine what happens if they leave the reporters twisting in the wind: The reporter's financial life is ruined and 2 groups of people get two strong signals:

  • Wrongdoers learn they can reliably use SLAPP techniques to silence reporters with impunity and control the media.
  • All the reporters quit because it's not worth the risk.

As a result, the newspaper has to step up to shield the reporter... or they won't have any reporters.

And it's likely the newspaper's insurance will cover the reporter in any case. Hence, going after the reporter is a pointless act, and worse, going after the reporter makes your complaint look like a petty harassment/SLAPP action, and gives the judge a stronger basis to dismiss it as such.

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    Sometimes, some newspapers are just rotten to the core, and the reporters employed by them no better - see the case of Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks and the News of the World paper in the UK. An entire profitable and long running newspaper shut down because many of it’s reporters had gone bad. – Moo Nov 24 '19 at 9:13

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