A Texas couple who filed a defamation lawsuit over three years ago against anonymous posters on the Internet forum Topix.com won a $13.78 million judgment from a jury.
The lawsuit stemmed from a woman’s allegations that Mark and Rhonda Lesher had sexually assaulted her. A jury had acquitted the Lesher’s of all allegations on January 15, 2009. Meanwhile, the same woman took to the internet to begin a smear campaign designed to ruin the Leshers’ reputations, according to the jury. The Leshers’ attorney compiled more than 25,000 instances of libelous online posts on Topix.com, however they only introduced 800 of the worst in court.
According to the lawsuit, the comments included one about Mrs. Lesher’s beauty salon. Mrs. Lesher testified as to how these offensive comments had affected her daily life in the small community of Clarksville, Texas. The abuse got so bad that the Leshers decided to move from Clarksville, where they had lived for more than 20 years.
The case serves to illustrate that one’s identity online is not so anonymous and that Internet comment posts do not protect one from civil liability for libel and slander.