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GREENSBORO, N.C.-ABC News will appeal a federal jury award of $5.5 million in punitive damages to Food Lion Inc. in a case involving a 1992 episode of "PrimeTime Live."
The verdict was based not on libel but on fraud allegedly committed by ABC News employees in obtaining jobs at the Salisbury, N.C.-based supermarket chain while conducting their undercover investigation.
The punitive damages follow a Dec. 30 award of $1,400 in compensatory damages.
"We believe this jury has said that ABC must be held accountable when it breaks laws that everyone else is expected to obey," said Tom Smith, president and chief executive officer of Food Lion.
ABC News President Roone Arledge called the verdict "unconscionable" and troubling, noting the suit did not challenge the truth of the broadcast. Mr. Arledge said in a written statement that "if large corporations were allowed to stop hard-hitting investigative journalism, the American people would be the losers."
This verdict against ABC follows a Miami jury's December award of $8.75 million in damages to a bank executive in a libel suit against the news organization.
In awarding the verdict last month, the federal court jury ruled that Alan Levan, the chairman and chief executive of BankAtlantic Financial Corp., was damaged by an ABC News broadcast of "20/20" from November 1991. Mr. Levan's award includes $8.25 million from ABC and $500,000 from the show's producer, William Wilson. In addition, the network was ordered to pay $1 million and Mr. Wilson was ordered to pay $250,000 to BankAtlantic Financial Corp., bringing the total award to $10 million. ABC also plans to appeal this decision.