ON MONDAY a Tennessee jury awarded Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews $55 million in damages for claims stemming from her successful lawsuit against the Nashville Marriott hotel and convicted stalker Michael David Barrett. Barrett, 54, who in 2009 pleaded guilty to interstate stalking after videotaping Andrews through a hotel peephole and posting videos online, is on the hook for approximately $28 million. (He was sentenced to 27 months in jail and served his time.) West End Hotel Partners and the hotel management company, Windsor Capital Group, owes Andrews the remaining $27 million.
It is an enormous award. Published data indicates that the average penalty in wrongful death suits is around $3.5 million. The 37-year-old Andrews, in contrast, suffered no injuries that would traditionally be classified as physical. She is also a highly successful broadcaster; after eight years at ESPN she left in 2012 for Fox, where she is a sideline reporter for the network's MLB and NFL coverage. As Andrews testified, however, she suffered substantial emotional injuries and continues to feel the effects of an egregious invasion of privacy. The defense's regrettable strategy, which included the assertion that Andrews benefited from the video's notoriety, appears to have backfired badly with jurors.
Andrews is unlikely to collect much, if anything, from Barrett, a former insurance executive, but she stands a good chance of collecting a considerable amount from the hotel and its owners. The defendants will likely appeal the decision, which could take months. An appellate court could also reduce the amount. Still, a message has been sent to hotels across the country: Guard your guests or pay a steep price.