Rolling Stone loses $7mn+ in defamation suit over false gang rape report

Rolling Stone has lost a $7.5 million lawsuit to a university dean of students, who accused it of defamation in a 2014 article on a gang rape. The jury found the magazine, its publisher and the author liable with malice.

The jury deliberated for about 19 hours before reaching the verdict in favor of Nicole Eramo, a former University of Virginia Associate Dean of Students.

Eramo filed her lawsuit in May 2015, accusing Rolling Stone’s author of defaming her in a report titled “A Rape on Campus,” published online in November 2014 and in the December 2014 print issue.

The woman claimed that reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, unfairly portrayed her as a villain in the story of a gang rape. Erdely’s 9,000-word article focused on an account of a woman named only as Jackie, who said that she was beaten and raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi house in September 2012. The reporter called Eramo "the chief villain of the story,” because she allegedly was discouraging “Jackie” from reporting the rape to the police.

"Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago,” Erdely wrote in the article.

In another line, the reporter wrote, also about the former university administrator: "As Jackie wrapped up her story, she was disappointed by Eramo's nonreaction. She'd expected shock, disgust, horror.”

Both statements were considered by jurors who found Erdely liable with malice on six claims.

As the story went viral, Eramo said she started receiving numerous angry letters and emails, which called her the "dean of rape.” She also faced protesters outside her office.

"Jackie got a different explanation when she'd eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, "Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school,” the article read. This statement was also brought up in the case.

However, it was not long before the entire story crumbled into pieces. An investigation by the Washington Post found inconsistencies in Jackie’s account and conflicting information in Erdely’s report.

Rolling Stone had to retract the article in April 2015. The following month, Eramo struck the magazine with a lawsuit, seeking over $7 million in damages.

“Once they decided what the story was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were,” Tom Clare, one of Eramo’s lawyers, said Tuesday, the Washington Post reported.

Eramo’s defense presented evidence that Erdely knew details of her article were untrue and discussed them before reporting.

Since October 17, the day when the trial began, jurors heard testimony from 12 witnesses, along with 11 hours of video statements and nearly 200 pieces of evidence.

They agreed that Rolling Stone and the magazine’s publisher, Wenner Media, are also liable with malice on three claims, stressing that it should not have posted the article in December knowing that it was false.

Rolling Stone has issued a statement following the Friday hearing, saying that the magazine was “attempting to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses” when it published “A Rape on Campus.”

“We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo,” Rolling Stone said, acknowledging that they “overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again.”

Jurors will convey back in court Monday to determine how much Eramo can receive in damages.