Two competing waste disposal companies are putting the Texas Supreme Court to the test. The Lone Star State’s highest court must consider a nuanced legal question over the next couple of months: What is a reasonable punitive punishment for online defamation?
The Case of the Cut-Throat Companies
In one corner is Waste Management; in the other, Texas Waste Disposal; both are successful waste disposal services operating in Texas; ostensibly, neither is afraid to employ cut throat competition tactics. The Hatfield and McCoy rivalry between the two parties is perhaps best explained by way of a recent lawsuit between the adversaries.
In the not so distant past, Waste Management and Texas Disposal System were jockeying to win government contracts in San Antonio and Austin. During this time, with viper-like precision, Waste Management sent out a blast fax regarding “environmental concerns” at Texas Disposal System’s landfills. The die was cast; Waste Management publicly shaded TDS.
Then Came The Trade Libel Lawsuit
Outraged, TDS sued Waste Management for trade libel and emerged victorious after the first round of litigation. A judge awarded the besmirched business $5 million in damages,
But that wasn’t enough for TDS. So, back to court they went – this time to the state’s Supreme one — where TDS argued for more, More, MORE! During the hearing, Team TDS told the justices that WM’s fax folly resulted in “extended economic damage” for its client – damage that far exceeded $5 million.
Court to Consider: Are We Becoming Immune To Bad Press Thanks To The Internet?
Which way will the Texas Supreme Court sway? Will they sympathize with TDS? Will they force WM to give till they “can’t give no ‘mo”!? Will they view TDS’s ask as an egregious money grab? At this point, nobody knows. Two judges, however, did lob some provocative sound bites into the Coliseum that may hint at their current inclinations.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said: “It makes me wonder if we haven’t just gotten used to all of these comments about business.” Could he be suggesting restraint when it comes to punitive damages for defamation since we’ve all “gotten used to” Internet grips and they, therefore, have less of an impact?
Justice Eva Guzman opined: “There are anonymous communications that show up all over the place and so the question is: Did you prove that they believed the contents of this anonymous communication carried the weight to change their opinion?” That statement speaks for itself.
Don’t expect a decision soon, according to reports, the court is expected to render its ruling in spring 2014.