Much has been made about the $55 million verdict awarded to Erin Andrews -- that it's not enough, that it is too much money, that she will not be able to collect the money, that the Nashville Marriott will appeal the verdict -- but in my opinion, it's about justice for Erin and for other victims who have been stalked, who have had their privacy invaded and who have been preyed upon by those who post stolen moments/pictures/videos on the internet or who post media meant to be kept private, to the internet, without consent, for revenge or for attention, or for whatever the reason. Victims of this behavior suffer devastating, long term emotional consequences. More needs to be done to lessen their devastation. We need legislation making it criminal for people to post stolen moments on the internet. Police and prosecutors need training on how to investigate and successfully prosecute perpetrators. We need a central clearing house to get those stolen moments off the internet. Obtaining justice should be simpler for victims.
The stalker got off easy. He received 30 months in a federal jail. That's it. The prosecutor's agreed not to file other charges, although there may be more charges filed in other jurisdictions. He admitted to stalking Erin and video taping her in three separate hotels - in Nashville, Tennessee, Columbus, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But what he did to Erin is just the tip of the iceberg. He admitted to stalking seventeen other women, including other TV personalities, obtaining their home addresses, travel schedules, learning their birthdays, video taping them and sharing the tapes on the internet. He tried to sell his videos of Erin to TMZ but was refused - so he just posted them for his own twisted reasons. Sure, he was found 51% at fault and has a $28 million judgment hanging over his head, but he most likely is judgment proof (has no assets that you can attach to collect the judgment).
Why sue the hotel? I should make it clear that Marriott International was dismissed from the lawsuit by the judge in late January because he ruled that they were not responsible for security at the hotel. The Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University is a Marriott franchise managed by West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capital Group - these were the defendants, along with the stalker.
When you check into a hotel, you expect that your privacy and safety will be protected. I have traveled solo frequently and have never had a hotel clerk state my room number out loud at check in, or given any confirmation to any one whether I am staying at the hotel or what room I am in. This is not a new practice. The hotel owes its guests the highest level of care to keep them safe from unreasonable risks and dangers the hotel knows or should have known about. Stalking, peeping, sexual assaults, domestic violence -- they are not new crimes. Before the 2008 intrusion, the hotel had been advised by a security company that they should have more than one guard and they should have more security cameras. The hotel elected not to follow this advice for budgetary reasons. Even still, if they had just trained their employees to say they could not give out the information that was requested, the matter would have stopped. Instead, a hotel employee confirmed Erin was staying in the hotel, confirmed her room number and accommodated the stalker's request to be booked into the room next to her. Once he was in her room, he listened through the wall to hear when she left the room, walked out into the hall, took a hacksaw and changed the peephole so he could video tape her. He went back into his room, heard her enter, listened to her shower, and when the water stopped, he went into the hall and spent 4 and 1/2 minutes video taping her. No guard was on duty. No cameras recorded his activities. No employee alerted Erin about her "business associate" who requested the room next to her. No housekeeper or maintenance person looked at the peephole to observe that it had been tampered with. And with this negligence, Erin's life was completely transformed.
Defense Attorney Miscalculation. Marc Dedman, defense attorney, argued in his opening statement that psychologists disagreed on whether Erin suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result of this and said she had thrived in her career as a result of this. His intense cross examination of Erin about her career and earnings was a colossal backfire. I wonder whether he sought other opinions about whether this was the appropriate type of defense. He would have been better off with a different strategy, expressing empathy for Erin, but stressing that this was the sole responsibility of the stalker who engaged in intentional conduct. Erin's attorney, Randell Kinard, hit the nail on the head in his rebuttal argument statement: “They [the hotel] cannot step into her shoes and understand the humiliation that can come from the violation of a standard of care. It’s not in their DNA to understand it.”
It's Really Not About the Money. Tennessee legislator's changed the law of joint and several liability for matters occurring after July 1, 2013. Joint and several liability means that intentional and negligent defendants can be held jointly responsible for any damages - so if the stalker is not able to pay his share of the verdict, the hotel would be responsible for both their share and his share. It is not clear how this amendment will affect the verdict in this case because the injury occurred in 2008 - we will likely hear more about this in the future. Also, because it appears that the damages are for emotional distress and not for physical injury, the award is subject to income taxes. It is also highly likely that Erin's attorney is being paid on a contingency basis - which can run from 33% to 40% of the judgment, plus she will be responsible for all of the hard costs of the trial (deposition transcripts, expert witnesses, etc.). There is speculation the hotel may appeal the decision or file bankruptcy, or enter into settlement negotiations. In all likelihood, Erin will see only a small amount of the $55 million verdict; the bottom line is that no amount of money will make Erin whole.
I applaud Erin for having the courage to pursue this matter, to relive the nightmare in court, to get the only form of justice we have available. I am hopeful that the publicity will encourage other necessary reforms for others who have suffered similarly.
Erin Andrews Lawsuit Settles
April 25, 2016
The attorneys in this case were supposed to appear before the judge today to argue the issue of joint and several liability - where the hotel could potentially be responsible for the full $55 million damages award. They reached a settlement. The amount is confidential. It is not unusual to have a confidentiality provision in any settlement. It is not unusual for the parties to have reached a settlement since each side was facing uncertainty about how the judge would rule and the long process of appeal was looming ahead of them.
Diane Russell is an attorney who is committed to serving her clients with the highest standard in the legal community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, photography, cooking, is the mom to Spanky, and an avid Seahawks fan. Blog posts will eventually get around to some legal issue, but not in ways you might typically expect from an attorney.