On Friday, a jury decided that Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdley defamed former UVa Dean Nicole Eramo in her discredited 2014 article, “A Rape on Campus.” Rolling Stone and its parent company, Wenner Media, were also found guilty of defamation.
After three days of deliberation, the ten-person jury decided that Erdely possessed actual malice in writing the article, meeting the threshold of reckless disregard for the truth that Eramo, a public figure, needed to prove defamation.
“A Rape on Campus” told the story of a Jackie, a UVa student who was gang raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house during her First Year in 2012. However, soon after the article’s publications, the details of the alleged rape began to fall apart and it was eventually revealed that the story was made up. Rolling Stone retracted the article soon after and fired Erdely. Eramo filed the $7.5 million lawsuit in May 2015 while dealing with the professional, financial, and emotional implications of being portrayed as the insensitive “chief villain” in the article. At the time of publication, Eramo was a Dean of Students who handled sexual assault cases at the University.
The 16-day trial, which began on October 17th, heard testimony from 12 witnesses, including Eramo, Erdley, and Jackie. An additional 11 hours of video statements and nearly 300 exhibits of evidence were presented to the jury.
Eramo’s lawyers argued that Erdley had a “preconceived story line” in mind when she first encountered Jackie and acted with reckless disregard for the truth by ignoring conflicting information and failing to look into questionable details. While the defendants admitted that serious mistakes had been made in the reporting process, they argued that the story’s retraction was evidence of their remorse, precluding actual malice.
The two-week trial only considered liability, leaving the question of damages for another date. While Eramo is seeking $7.5 million in damages, a jury could potentially award her a higher amount.