Policy Corner: An extra layer of responsibility when reporting on lawsuits

A lot of lawsuits are in the news lately, particularly involving Northwestern University athletics but also a noteworthy suburban one involving the shooting of Ludwig the dog in Wayne.

Similar to criminal allegations, we are careful about how we report on lawsuits, and maybe even more careful. While criminal allegations must align with actual law - how a person or people broke a law or laws must be detailed specifically - anyone can sue over and allege just about anything in a lawsuit, claiming that harm has been caused in any way.

That means, first, we must decide how much of the details we should publish, and second, take even more care to get a response from the accused. The ideal is to give each party about equal time.

What tends to happen, though, is the plaintiff offers a lot of details in the lawsuit, while the accused gives brief responses, maybe simple denials or even "no comment at this time." In which case we may limit the plaintiff's details that we publish.

In the Northwestern case, needless to say, many details have been published. Northwestern, thankfully, has provided a lot of response and even actions, detailing its own investigation and now hiring a former U.S. attorney to launch a new one.

In the Ludwig case, many of the details of the shooting have long been published, with the accused's responses, and in the lawsuit, we really only added the owner's claims of suffering "extreme distress" and the damages he's seeking.

We may be protected legally in reporting details in lawsuits, because it becomes public record, but ethically we aim to make sure one side doesn't get to pile on without the other getting a say, too.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.