truth, it should have submitted a precise point for charge covering the matter. The only instance in which defendant used the phrase 'substantial truth' in its points for charge was in connection with a point on conditional privilege, and the phrase was used there in such a way that it would have been error on the question of conditional privilege for the court to have affirmed the point. The trial judge committed no error in not charging on the question of substantial truth.
The verdict was for $ 50,000. In answer to interrogatories the jury stated that this included $ 20,000 for punitive damages. Defendant contends that the verdict was excessive both as to compensatory and as to punitive damages.
What a jury may consider in awarding damages in a suit for defamation has been set forth in Restatement, Torts, Sec. 569, comment c, as follows:
'The jury may take into consideration any loss of reputation sustained by the other in determining the amount of its verdict. So, too, the recovery may include compensatory damages for any special harm * * * and damages for emotional distress or illness or bodily harm * * *. In a proper case punitive damages may also be included in the recovery.'
It is very difficult to say what a good reputation is worth or what is a fair compensation for lowering of a mother's reputation when she has been falsely accused of helping to bring about her daughter's suicide. Certainly it would be a substantial figure and a jury would be warranted in so finding. Mrs. MacRae's emotional distress (apart from the distress caused by the death) upon learning of the article was great and caused her to be hospitalized immediately for four days. The distress continued for a long period of time and eventually affected her digestive functions so that she was again hospitalized. The article caused Mrs. MacRae to restrict her social life and to withdraw from activities in which she was interested. The defamatory article was spread widely. It was published in newspapers which had a circulation of about 97,000 copies, which went into 33 states. Of these 11,727 went into Pennsylvania and 419 into Chester County, Pennsylvania, where plaintiff lived. The $ 30,000 verdict for compensatory damages is amply supported by the evidence.
The punitive damage problem was correctly presented to the jury by the trial judge as follows:
'If, in your judgment from your memory of the evidence in the case, the defendant published the alleged defamatory matter with knowledge of its falsity, or with reckless indifference thereto, or solely for the purpose of causing harm to the plaintiff, then you could award punitive damages to the plaintiff.'
There is no substantial evidence that the article was published with knowledge of its falsity, or solely for the purpose of causing harm to the plaintiff. Apparently the verdict for punitive damages was based upon the jury's conclusion that the article was published with reckless indifference as to whether or not it was true. The reporter who wrote the story testified that before she wrote the article she telephoned the MacRae residence and spoke to plaintiff's husband but got none of the defamatory information from him. She was told that Mrs. MacRae, the plaintiff, was not available. The reporter obtained all the information used in the article from hearsay on the campus of Lincoln University where there was some rumor to support the story.
To publish this untrue story concerning the very personal and delicate relationship between a mother and daughter right after the daughter's funeral was indeed a nasty thing to do, but under the facts a finding that it was done with reckless indifference to its falsity is not substantiated by the evidence. For that reason the verdict will be reduced to $ 30,000, the jury's verdict for compensatory damages.
It is not often that a trial court is able to change the amount of a jury verdict. The rule has been stated as follows:
'The courts of this country unanimously hold that the trial court is powerless to reduce the verdict of a jury in an action for unliquidated damages and render judgment for a less amount unless the party in whose favor the verdict was rendered consents to the reduction, since a reduction under such circumstances invades the province of the jury. The court must make the remittitur conditional upon the consent of the plaintiff * * *.' 39 Am.Jur. 206.
This rule, however, does not apply in a case such as the present one where as a matter of law a portion of the verdict must be excised and where the jury itself has liquidated the portion of the verdict to be excised. It was within the province of the jury to fix the amount of punitive damages. It did this. Its decision in reference to the amount of punitive damages is not being changed, so its province is not being invaded.
Defendant's motion for judgment in its favor and for a new trial will be denied. The verdict and judgment will be reduced to $ 30,000.