Note: This page covers information specific to Massachusetts and should be read in conjunction with the general section on retraction in the section on Correcting or Retracting Your Work After Publication which has additional information applicable to all states.
Massachusetts has a retraction statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 93, that applies to the publication of libel. The retraction statute bars a plaintiff from recovering punitive and exemplary damages in a defamation suit, and allows the court or jury to consider a defendant's retraction as a factor in mitigating an award of general damages to the plaintiff. The statute states in its entirety:
Although the statute doesn't state whether it applies to online publishers, the statute's use of the phrase "publication of libel" without limitation would seem to suggest that an online publisher is covered by the Massachusetts retraction statute.
Where the defendant in an action for libel, at any time after the publication of the libel hereinafter referred to, either before or after such action is brought, but before the answer is required to be filed therein, gives written notice to the plaintiff or to his attorney of his intention to publish a retraction of the libel, accompanied by a copy of the retraction which he intends to publish, and the retraction is published, he may prove such publication, and, if the plaintiff does not accept the offer of retraction, the defendant may prove such nonacceptance in mitigation of damages. If within a reasonable time after receiving notice in writing from the plaintiff that he claims to be libelled the defendant makes such offer and publishes a reasonable retraction, and such offer is not accepted, he may prove that the alleged libel was published in good faith and without actual malice, and, unless the proof is successfully rebutted, the plaintiff shall recover only for any actual damage sustained. In no action of slander or libel shall exemplary or punitive damages be allowed, whether because of actual malice or want of good faith or for any other reason. Proof of actual malice shall not enhance the damages recoverable for injury to the plaintiff’s reputation.
Handling Requests to Remove or Retract Material in Massachusetts
If someone contacts you with a retraction request, you should first determine whether a retraction is warranted; review the steps under the handling a retraction request section of this guide for help in making this assessment. If you determine that a retraction is appropriate, you should follow the procedures outlined in the Massachusetts retraction statute so that you can avail yourself of the statutory benefit of limiting potential defamation damages.
Under the Massachusetts retraction statute, a publisher should send written notice to the plaintiff of:
- the publisher's intention to publish a retraction of the libel;
- a copy of the retraction intended to be published; and
- the published retraction
at any time before the plaintiff files a suit against the publisher, or, by the time of the publisher has to file a response to the plaintiff's lawsuit.
If you comply with this procedure after receiving a retraction request and you are found to be liable for defamation, the plaintiff's ability to recover damages from you will be limited to recovering his or her actual economic losses only.
Even in the unlikely event that your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of Massachusetts's retraction statute, your willingness to correct past errors in your work will provide several benefits. It will make your work more accurate and reliable, which will increase your credibility, influence, and (hopefully) your page views. It will also diminish the likelihood of your being sued in the first place, as it might placate the potential plaintiff. Furthermore, courts and juries may find a retraction shows your good faith, which will benefit you in a defamation suit.