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Faulk v. Aware, Inc. (1963)


    Citation. https://advance.lexis.com/api/document/collection/cases/id/3RRT-1PH0-003C-C4K4-00000-00?context=1000516&origination=casebriefs

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

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court will reduce an excessive compensatory damage award when there is hardly justification for it.

    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. Defendants appealed, claiming the awards were excessive.

    Issue. Is the size of the verdict, both as to compensatory and punitive damages, excessive and unrealistic?

    Held. Yes. The court reduced the punitive damage award against Aware to $50,000.00 and against Hartnett to $100,000.00.
    * The size of the verdict, both as to compensatory and punitive damages, were excessive and unrealistic.
    * Prior earnings are am important factor in assessing the damage suffered when his earnings are cut off. His damage need not be limited to the level of his actual earnings at the time of the libel. In this case, Plaintiff’s potential earnings were fixed by his witnesses in amounts ranging from $100,000.00 to $1,000,000.00 a year. Plaintiff’s past earnings were never more than about $35,000.00 per year.
    * The testimony of the experts left plenty room for speculation. Upon that testimony, the jury was justified in its obvious conclusions that Plaintiff’s prospects for advancement in his profession were extremely good and that his income would rise correspondingly. Despite that however, there is hardly justification for a compensatory damage award of $1,000,000.00, even when making allowance for Plaintiff’s pain and suffering. Compensatory damages should be fixed at a figure no higher than $400,000.00.

    Discussion. In this case, the court stated that the jury’s compensatory award was justified, however, it was nonetheless excessive. In this case, the Court did in fact substitute its own judgment for that of the jury’s.


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