High Court Upholds $2 Million Judgement Against ‘Boston Globe,’ Reporter

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The Boston Globe and a former reporter must pay more than $2 million to a doctor who said she was wrongly blamed in the paper for the death of the newspaper’s health columnist, the state’s highest court ruled today.

Dr. Lois Ayash had sued the newspaper and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, claiming she was singled out as the “leader of the team” of doctors caring for columnist Betsy Lehman when she died in 1994 from an overdose of experimental cancer drugs.

The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the $1.68 million award against the Globe and a $420,000 award against a former Globe reporter. The newspaper had argued that the damage awards, which were imposed after the paper refused to reveal its sources, were excessive.

The Globe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While upholding the judgment against the newspaper and reporter, the high court did throw out much of a damage award against the hospital itself.

A jury had ordered Dana-Farber to pay Ayash $1.25 million for unlawful retaliation, invasion of privacy, and breach of contract in relation to Lehman’s death. But the high court threw out the privacy and breach of contract allegations. Another jury will be asked to determine the damages Ayash should be awarded for the remaining allegation, unlawful retaliation.

The high court also threw out a $840,000 damage award against Dana-Farber’s former chief of staff, Dr. David Livingston.

Ayash’s libel claim centered on a 1995 Globe story that said she had countersigned an erroneous medical order that resulted in Lehman’s death. The Globe published a correction saying Ayash had not countersigned the order, but it stood by its claim that she was the head of the treatment team that was using the experimental chemotherapy regimen.

Another patient also was given an overdose but survived. Following an investigation, the hospital reprimanded Ayash for not finding the overdoses sooner. A year later, she was laid off.

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