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Faulk v. Aware, Inc. (1962)

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendants accused Faulk (Plaintiff) of having communist sympathies and affiliations. Plaintiff sued Defendants for libel.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person wrongfully injured is entitled to recover for deprivation of future earning capacity, without limitation to his actual earnings preceding the injury. Opinion testimony of Plaintiff’s potential earnings, by experts familiar with his capacities, is admissible.

    Facts. Plaintiff sued Aware, Inc. (Defendant) and its founder, Vincent Hartnett (Defendant) for libel when Defendants accused Plaintiff of having communist sympathies and affiliations. The jury rendered a verdict awarding compensatory damages of $1,000,000.00 against three Defendants and punitive damages of $1,250,000.00 against Defendants Aware and Vincent. Defendants appealed, claiming the awards were excessive.

    Issue. Is there a rational basis for the jury’s awards in the evidence adduced and in the circumstances of this case?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * The court should not substitute its judgment for that of the jury, unless the amounts awarded are unsupportable under any fair-minded view of the facts.
    * The damages recoverable for a libel consist of two items: compensatory and punitive.
    * A person wrongfully injured is entitled to recover for deprivation of future earning capacity, without limitation to his actual earnings preceding the injury. Opinion testimony of Plaintiff’s potential earnings, by experts familiar with his capacities, is admissible. Plaintiff had been rendered unemployable in the television and radio industry as the direct result of the alleged libel and the concerted acts of defendants. Plaintiff’s experts testified that he would have earned between $150,000.00 and $500,000.00 annually. Defendants offered no proof in contradiction of Plaintiff’s experts. The jury award of compensatory damages was not excessive.
    * The court held that the punitive damage awards were not excessive.

    Discussion. Plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages in a claim for libel. On review, the court will not substitute its judgment for that of the jury’s. In this case, Plaintiff offered expert testimony, which was unchallenged by Defendant. The jury award was not excessive.


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