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Boston Globe ordered to pay $2.1 million in libel case

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Libel         Feb 14, 2002    

Boston Globe ordered to pay $2.1 million in libel case

  • When the newspaper and its reporter refused to disclose confidential sources, a judge punished them by finding them liable for defamation.

A jury ordered The Boston Globe and one of its reporters to pay $2.1 million to a doctor who said she was libeled in a story about an accidental chemotherapy overdose that killed a Globe columnist.

In all, the Suffolk County Superior Court jury on Feb. 12 awarded $4.2 million to Dr. Lois Ayash for emotional distress, lost wages and injury to her business reputation. The jury found Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Ayash worked, and its former physician-in-chief liable for the remainder of the damages.

Ayash sued the Globe in 1996, arguing that she was erroneously identified in a 1995 article as having approved a mistaken chemotherapy order, which resulted in an overdose that killed columnist Betsy Lehman and caused severe toxicity in another patient. The newspaper published a correction.

The jury did not decide whether the newspaper had libeled Ayash. The trial judge found the Globe and reporter Richard Knox liable in April 2001 by entering a default judgment against them to punish them for refusing to comply with a court order to disclose confidential sources.

The jury decided only the amount of damages the newspaper and reporter must pay. It found the newspaper liable for $1.68 million and Knox liable for $420,000.

The newspaper and reporter will appeal, said Globe attorney Jonathan Albano. The judge’s punishment of the newspaper took away its chance to defend itself, even though the confidential sources were not relevant to Ayash’s libel claim, Albano said.

Ayash had sought the identities of the sources to prove that the hospital had invaded her privacy. The jury — without knowing the identities of the confidential sources — found the hospital had invaded her privacy.

“We believe that goes a long way in showing that the identities of those sources were in no way central to her invasion of privacy claim against the hospital,” Albano said. “And so the very basis for the sanction, we think, was shown to be unfounded.”

The verdict orders the hospital to pay $1.27 million and the former physician-in-chief to pay $840,000 in damages.

(Ayash v. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Media Counsel: Jonathan Albano) MD

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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