Late last week, David Rudovsky, a Senior Fellow on the Penn Law faculty, and Len Sosnov, Professor of Law at Widener, won a $5 million dollar punitive damages verdict in a defamation case against West Publishing. This from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
In 1991, West published their Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure: Law, Commentary and Forms. A second edition was published in 2001, and the men provided annual updates tracking changes in criminal court procedures. But in 2008, West wanted to pay them only $2,500 each, so the two men ceased work on the addendum. Nevertheless, West published an update bearing Rudovsky and Sosnov's names on the title page. The professors sued, contending that an inferior product - only three new cases were cited - damaged their professional reputations.
The Federal jury which issued this verdict awarded each man $90,000 in actual damages and $2.5 million in punitives - a juicy 28 to 1 ratio. We can fairly assume that there will be a remittitur in this case, given those numbers. But the case itself is interesting. Apparently, the professors' contract allowed West to issue updates under their names if the authors wouldn't agree to produce them. Consequently, this case was simply about whether the $50 update was such a sham - in this case, the company added only three new cases (compared updates prepared by the authors which typically added 150 new cass) - that the authors' reputations were badly harmed. Apparently, the jury was convinced that they were.
How many of us are wondering whether we have $2.5 million dollars of academic reputation to damage? (I know, I know...these were punitives.)