YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Watch what you post on Facebook. That’s a warning that’s been drilled into every social media user. Now, with courts taking a closer look at the platform and how it impacts our daily life, a man in Youngstown could get a larger settlement from his ex-wife even after she took down what the court said were defamatory comments about her ex-husband.
While Brett Forinash did receive $500 in damages in his initial 2013 lawsuit against his ex-wife, he was also seeking $25,000 for “spoliation of evidence” after his she removed the posts when he revised his lawsuit to include action that her remarks would be read outside of their Northwest Ohio community, therefore causing him more harm.
The posts by Angela Weber started in late 2012 and pertained primarily to the ongoing court battle between the two regarding their child. Forinash filed his lawsuit based on Weber’s Facebook profile post that alleged he was “hooked on porn [and] watches dirty movies with teenage girls.”
The trial court granted summary judgement to Forinash, finding he was defamed, and awarded $100 in nominal damages. The court also provided Forinash $500 in punitive damages, finding that Weber acted with malice, and ordered her to pay $2,000 for Forinash’s attorney fees. The trial court didn’t address the spoliation claim.
Forinash appealed the decision to the Sixth District, maintaining the trial judge used the wrong standard to calculate damages and that he should have also received damages for spoliation of the evidence.
Writing for the Sixth District, Judge James D. Jensen noted the trial court’s rationale for the $100 was based on the view that Forinash’s standing in the community wasn’t tarnished because he now lives in Youngstown and Weber lives in Sandusky County “where the Facebook posts would primarily have been read.” The trial court also noted that Forinash didn’t lose his job or suffer any reduction in wages because of the posts.
Judge Jensen, however, agreed with Forinash’s argument that Facebook posts aren’t confined to a geographic region and that Forinash supported his claim by providing testimony that friends in North Carolina questioned him about Weber’s comments.
“Further, it would defy reality to conclude that a post on a social networking internet site such as Facebook is in any way limited in its geographic reach,” Judge Jensen wrote.
The case was remanded to the trial court to reexamine the $100 damages award.