Fla. jury awards $11.3 million in Net-defamation case

By The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A children’s services referral provider was awarded $11.3 million in damages from a mother who posted critical Internet messages after seeking her advice.

The defendant, Carey Bock, called Sue Scheff a “con artist,” “crook” and “fraud” in messages posted on a site used by parents with troubled children at boarding schools.

The award for Scheff, founder of Parents Universal Resource Experts Inc., is among the largest for a lawsuit claiming Internet defamation, according to legal analysts and an attorney involved in the case.

A judge ruled in Scheff’s favor after Bock did not show up for the trial. The jury then decided the damage amount. The Sept. 19 judgment was first reported Oct. 6 by Daily Business Review.

The dispute arose after Bock sought help withdrawing her sons from a school in Costa Rica. Scheff said she referred Bock to a consultant, and the two disagreed over access to information. Later Bock posted the negative messages about Scheff on an Internet site used by parents with troubled children at boarding schools.

The lawsuit was filed in 2003. Scheff won the $11.3 million judgment, which includes $5 million in punitive damages, from a Broward County jury.

Scheff attorney David H. Pollack said yesterday that the award “signals that there is a limit” to the material that can be used on the Internet.

“You can’t just destroy somebody’s life, destroy somebody’s reputation and make blatant false statements about somebody and have there be no consequence,” Pollack said. “There has to be a consequence.”

It’s unclear if Scheff, who lives in suburban Fort Lauderdale, will collect any money.

Bock, of Mandeville, La., told USA TODAY she didn’t have the money to pay the award or appeal it. She relocated temporarily after Hurricane Katrina flooded her home last year, and she said she wasn’t aware of the trial date after returning home over the summer.