Dominion Voting Systems did more on Tuesday than settle its lawsuit against Fox News for $787.5 million: It also set the tone for the many related defamation cases it has filed.
Legal experts say the settlement with Fox News, one of the largest defamation payouts in American history, could embolden Dominion as it continues to defend its reputation, which it says was savaged by conspiracy theories about vote fraud during the 2020 election. The company has several cases pending against public figures including Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive, and news outlets such as Newsmax.
The targets of Dominion’s remaining lawsuits, few of which have deep pockets and legal firepower at Fox’s level, will likely take a cue from Dominion and Fox’s faceoff, legal experts said.
“Even though it was a settlement, it certainly was a victory for Dominion,” said Margaret M. Russell, a law professor at Santa Clara University. “For other possible defendants, I don’t think this will make them double down; it will make them fearful.”
Dominion is the second-largest election technology company operating in the United States, where there are few other major players. The company, whose majority owner is the private equity firm Staple Street Capital, was made “toxic” by the false fraud narratives in 2020, one of Staple Street’s founders said in court documents. At one point, Dominion estimated that misinformation cost it $600 million in profits.
Fox said in its court filings that Dominion did not have to lay off employees, close offices, or default on any debts, nor did it suffer any canceled business contracts as a result of the news network’s coverage. Fox said in one filing that Dominion had projected $98 million in revenue for 2022, which would make Tuesday’s settlement the equivalent of eight years of sales.
Dominion’s customers are largely officials who oversee voting in states and counties around the country; the company served 28 states, as well as Puerto Rico, in the 2020 election. The false stories about fraud that were directed at the company were embraced by some local election officials.
In court documents, an expert enlisted by Dominion said that the company had very low early contract termination rates and very high contract renewal rates before the 2020 election but blamed the preoccupation with the false fraud claims for prompting some clients to exit deals after the vote.
Now Dominion has emerged from its tussle with Fox in a stronger position to win back any skittish clients or score new business, legal experts said.
Last month, the judge in Dominion’s case against Fox reviewed evidence of the false claims and wrote that it “is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” effectively confirming that the company was aboveboard.
The secretary of state of New Mexico, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, applauded Tuesday’s settlement.
“The harm done by election lies/denialism since 2020 is immeasurable, but this settlement against Fox News provides accountability; sends a strong message we’re happy to see,” Toulouse Oliver wrote on Twitter. During the midterm primaries last year, she blamed “unfounded conspiracy theories” when she sued officials in Otero County who had cited concerns about Dominion machines in their refusal to certify election results.
Fox acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that some of the claims it had made about Dominion were false, saying that the admission “reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
John Poulos, Dominion’s founder and chief executive, said in a statement Tuesday that Fox caused “enormous damage” to his company and “nothing can ever make up for that.” He also thanked the election officials who make up Dominion’s clientele and nodded to Staple Street’s support.
Dominion drew some complaints that by settling, it had given up the opportunity to extract an apology from Fox or force it through a potentially embarrassing trial. An opinion article in the Daily Beast bemoaned that the voting technology company had “decided to step out of the ring with a bag of money instead of vanquishing one of the country’s most destructive and influential peddlers of hate and disinformation.”
Poulos called the settlement “a big step forward for democracy” in an interview with ABC News broadcast Wednesday.
Legal experts noted that even if Dominion had prevailed in a jury verdict, it would have risked years of expensive battles over appeals from Fox.
“The tort of defamation is not about saving democracy from liars,” said Enrique Armijo, a professor and First Amendment expert at Elon University School of Law. “It’s about saving the reputation of the people who have been lied about and making those liars compensate them for the harms to their reputations.”
Fox still faces other legal challenges, including a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from another election technology company, Smartmatic. Fox said it planned to defend freedom of the press in the case and called Smartmatic’s damages claims “outrageous, unsupported and not rooted in sound financial analysis.” Smartmatic said in a statement that after the Dominion settlement, it “will expose the rest” of the “misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign.”
Dominion, too, has more cases pending, including against pro-Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and One America News Network. Although the lawsuits involve similar false claims of election fraud, the facts of each case vary, experts said.
Attorneys for Lindell and Giuliani did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did Newsmax or OAN.
For the individuals and smaller companies facing legal claims, for whom a substantial jury judgment could be an “existential” threat, settlement might seem more attractive after Tuesday, Armijo said.
“They’re not going to be able to put up the same level of defense that Fox did; they just don’t have the resources to do it,” he said. “It’s hard to see the other defamation defendants in the remaining cases getting any further than Fox did, which, as we saw, is not very far.”