Retraction Law in Pennsylvania

Note: This page covers information specific to Pennsylvania and should be read in conjunction with Correcting or Retracting Your Work After Publication, which has general information applicable to all states.

While no court has spoken directly on the issue of retractions and online publications, you have a strong argument that a jury can consider your retraction for the purpose of mitigation of damages under Pennsylvania commonlaw.

Although Pennsylvania does not have a retraction statute, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania considered the effect of a retraction in Wharen v. Dershuck, 264 Pa. 562 (Pa. 1919). In that case, the plantiff George Warren sued the publisher of the newspaper The Plain Speaker over an article describing Wharen's behavior as a mail carrier. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant-publisher, and in his appeal Wharen argued that the judge's instructions to the jury were in error. These instructions included the judge's statement that while the jury could not consider the defendant's retraction for purposes of liability, the jury could consider it to mitigate the damages awarded to the plaintiff. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found no reversible error and upheld the jury instructions.

Two other Pennsylvania cases, Duh v. Bethlehem's Globe Publishing Co. (No. 1), 48 Pa. D. & C.2d 268 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1969) and Rossi v. McDonnell, 18 Pa. D. & C.2d 550 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1959), similarly held that a defendant in a libel suit is entitled to offer his or her retraction to a jury to mitigate damages. While it is difficult to predict how a court will rule on whether the above standard applies to online publications, you have a colorable argument that you can offer your retraction to a jury for the purpose of mitigation of damages under Pennsylvania commonlaw.

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, issuing a retraction may mitigate your damages in accordance with the Wharen decision.

Even if your online publishing activities do not fall within the scope of the Wharen decision, 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. Correcting errors will also diminish the likelihood of your being sued in the first place, by placating a potential plaintiff. Furthermore, courts and juries may find that a retraction shows your good faith, which will benefit you in a defamation suit.


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