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WJLA-TV v. Levin

564 S.E.2d 383 (2002)

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WJLA-TV v. Levin

Virginia Supreme Court

564 S.E.2d 383 (2002)

Facts

Following complaints from multiple female patients, the Virginia Board of Medicine (the board) held a hearing regarding orthopedist Dr. Stephen Levin (plaintiff) and his use of an intravaginal method to treat piriformis syndrome. The board dismissed the complaints, and a patient who reported Levin went to WJLA-TV (WJLA) (defendant). WJLA broadcast promotional segments and a report on Levin’s treatment method. The promotions suggested Levin’s method was sexual assault and labeled him “Dirty Doc” and “the X rated doctor.” The broadcast, which identified Levin by name and included his photo, discussed the allegations that he subjected female patients to inappropriate pelvic exams. The broadcast included statements from piriformis syndrome expert Dr. Loren Fishman and other knowledgeable physicians who said they were unaware of any intravaginal methods to treat the condition. Fishman called the intravaginal method improper but later retracted that characterization. The broadcast did not acknowledge Fishman’s retraction. Levin sued WJLA for defamation and damages in Virginia state court, seeking $30 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. Levin introduced evidence of over $900,000 in actual damages. WJLA argued against that amount but did not offer any evidence to rebut it. The jury found that WJLA acted with actual malice in broadcasting the report and awarded a total of $2 million to Levin. WJLA appealed, arguing the damage award was excessive and should not have been affirmed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Koontz, J.)

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