A University of Virginia fraternity is planning to sue Rolling Stone over a now-retracted article claiming its members gang-raped a freshman, and a prominent law professor explained why the magazine will likely try to settle the case.
“This is a case that would likely be very expensive for Rolling Stone to defend, and would certainly put a lot of pressure on them to settle,” according to David Ardia, a professor at the University of North Carolina law school and co-directory of the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy.
Even if Rolling Stone manages to win, Ardia said, the magazine would still incur significant costs in legal fees. It seems almost certain that a judge would allow the fraternity’s libel case to move forward and proceed to trial, according to Ardia.
In Rolling Stone’s original article about sexual assault at the university, UVA student “Jackie” told the magazine she was gang-raped during a date party on Sept. 28, 2012, at the campus’ Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.
Much — if not all — of Jackie’s story has since been disproved by media reports, a police investigation, and a report by Columbia Journalism School that Rolling Stone published earlier this month. The Columbia report detailed the magazine’s reporting and editorial decisions leading up to the UVA story.
While most libel suits get dismissed by a judge in the early stages of the case, Ardia explained, the Columbia report points to enough evidence to at least get the fraternity’s case to a jury and “past all of the pre-trial hurdles.”
“This case is somewhat special because you have this searching, detailed investigation that would be very valuable for any plaintiff in this case,” he said.
Admitting its faults may make the Rolling Stone case more difficult to defend in court, according to Ardia. “They have made a bed,” he said, “that’s going to be very difficult to sleep in.”
Rolling Stone has previously declined to comment on the fraternity’s plans to sue. We reached out to the magazine for comments on Ardia’s prediction that it will settle, and we will update this post if we hear back.
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