Rolling Stone has come to a settlement to resolve a defamation lawsuit brought by University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo, although there is one aspect of the case that will continue.
At trial last November, the publication was found liable for its controversial article about the gang rape of a freshman identified as “Jackie” at a University of Virginia campus fraternity. The damages award was $1 million against Rolling Stone, and an additional $2 million against writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Although the verdict was undoubtedly an embarrassment for the Jann Wenner-founded magazine, Eramo had been seeking $7.5 million in damages, and sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the publication’s lawyers were privately relieved at the outcome. The jury concluded Rolling Stone wasn’t liable for the original story, “A Rape on Campus,” but rather the website “republication” which contained an editor’s note apologizing for holes in the article.
This result led Rolling Stone to ask the Virginia federal judge to overturn the verdict with the argument it amounted to a “million-dollar penalty against a publisher that sought to promptly put readers on notice of serious concerns with an article and, as such, violates basic public policy.”
The publication then gained support from various media companies including The Washington Post, which poked holes in the original story, as well as the Associated Press, Gannett Co. and others led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
As a result of a joint motion for voluntary dismissal, reflecting a confidential settlement, a Virginia federal judge won’t address this “republication” issue. Instead, the uncertainties inherent with updating stories to note possibly faulty information may have to be addressed by some future court case.
However, the parties are requesting the judge still rule on one pending motion for reconsideration dealing with some of the confidentiality issues that upset the case on the eve of trial. After ABC’s 20/20 had a report showcasing depositions from the case, Rolling Stone brought a motion for injunctive relief and sanctions based on Eramo’s side leaking. The judge granted Rolling Stone‘s motion, and the defendant is still aiming to overturn that sanctions order. The settlement contains a stipulation whereby the parties request the court retain jurisdiction in order to render a decision.
Meanwhile, while the case with the university administrator may be over, Rolling Stone continues to be in court against the fraternity portrayed in the story.