Fox News has agreed to settle the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against the network over its broadcast of lies aimed at undercutting public confidence in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The network and Dominion Voting Systems agreed to a $787.5 million settlement Tuesday, according to Dominion attorney Justin Nelson, just as attorneys were set to outline their case to jurors ahead of trial testimony in what has been the most closely watched media trial in decades.
“The truth matters,” Nelson said. “Lies have consequences.”
Details of the settlement were not immediately available, specifically if Fox will need to issue any type of retraction. Dominion sued Fox News and its parent corporation in 2021, claiming the network knowingly broadcast lies being perpetuated by former President Donald Trump and his attorneys as he clung to power in the months after his 2020 election loss.
The Denver-based voting technology company said the lies caused more than $1 billion in damage and led to its employees receiving threats.
Last month, presiding Judge Eric Davis ruled that it was “crystal” clear that allegations broadcast by Fox News and claiming that Dominion’s technology was responsible for fraudulently flipping the election were false. That left it up to a jury to decide whether Fox News knew those allegations were false, which triggers legal liability.
“Money is accountability and we got that today from Fox,” said Dominion lawyer Stephen Shackelford after news of the settlement.
What was at stake in Dominion v. Fox
The settlement came hours before trial testimony that was expected to feature a parade of high-profile Fox News personalities and leaders, including Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Rupert Murdoch and former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Fox had denied all wrongdoing, saying this lawsuit is an attack on the First Amendment. The legal team also argued its hosts were covering an important news story. During pretrial hearings, the legal team had taken hits – including the judge sanctioning them and telling them they had a “credibility problem.”
The outcome could have had major implications for misinformation and freedom of the press.
Leading up to the trial, some legal experts remarked how strong of a case Dominion had. It’s uncommon for defamation cases to make it to trial and even rarer for a plaintiff to prove actual malice.
Dominion would have needed to prove to a Delaware jury that Fox knowingly published false information about Dominion or recklessly disregarded information showing that the claims were not true.
Fox lawyers did not answer reporters’ questions following the news of the settlement. The network, in a statement, said they “acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.
“We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”
How the trial ended before it began
The settlement came hours after the court completed selecting a jury and minutes before attorneys were to deliver their opening statements after a lunch break Tuesday.
But the jury was never brought into the courtroom, and those arguments never happened.
Instead, the judge never took the bench. Over the subsequent three-hour delay, attorneys came and went from the backroom as a small army of media reporters speculated what was the cause of the delay. Eventually, Davis, the judge, reentered the courtroom, summoned the jury and announced the case had been settled.
He thanked jurors for their service and attorneys for their work.
While the settlement avoids what was expected to be a six-week trial proceeding, it comes after years of litigation that featured a steady drip of embarrassing revelations derived from depositions, as well as evidence that included text messages and emails sent by Fox News personalities and leadership.
Heading into trial, Fox has already experienced several setbacks. Davis rejected Fox’s motion to throw out the case and sanctioned its legal team for withholding evidence, including recordings of a former Fox producer that involved Trump associates.
And there are still more lawsuits pending.
Dominion has sued One American News Network and Newsmax. Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Mike Lindell, all Trump associates, have been slapped with defamation lawsuits. Fox is also facing a defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic, a voting machine company, that has made similar allegations to Dominion’s.