Yesterday, a Nashville jury awarded sportscaster Erin Andrews $55 million dollars in damages for the taping and release of a video showing her naked in 2008. This video of her was taken by Michael Barrett, a stalker, in 2008, at a Nashville Marriott hotel.
Following the incident, Michael Barrett pleaded guilty in 2009 to stalking Ms. Andrews and making the video. Normally a hotel chain would not be responsible for the actions of a stalker, but this case involved some very unique facts. In 2008, prior to recording the video, Mr. Barrett contacted employees of the Nashville Marriott and asked them to confirm that Ms. Andrews was planning on staying there in the near future. The employees, shockingly, confirmed this information. Mr. Barrett then asked to be put into the hotel room next to Ms. Andrews during her stay. Again, shockingly, Mr. Barrett’s request was granted. Mr. Barrett, armed with this information about Ms. Andrews, rigged a peep hole to shoot the video of Ms. Andrews while she was changing in her hotel room.
The actions by the employees of the Nashville Marriott opened up the hotel chain to liability because it could be argued that the hotel chain failed to properly train and supervise its employees which allowed Mr. Barrett to take video of Ms. Andrews while she was in the privacy of her hotel room. In court, Ms. Andrews argued that these actions by the hotel’s employees were improper and directly led to Mr. Barrett being able to take the video at issue. Attorneys for the hotel argued that Mr. Barrett was solely responsible for the video taking and its posting online and that the hotel could never have foreseen him taking these actions.
The jury saw merit to both arguments finding that Mr. Barrett was 51% responsible for any damages caused to Ms. Andrews and that the hotel was 49% responsible. What does that really mean though? It means, of the $55 million awarded, Mr. Barrett is responsible for 51% or $28.05 million dollars and Marriott is responsible for 49% or $26.95 million dollars. It should be noted that it is unlikely Ms. Andrews will recover much, if any, money from Mr. Barrett due to his lack of assets. Conversely, Ms. Andrews will likely recover a significant portion from the Marriott hotel chain.
This case demonstrates the importance of companies providing their employees with proper training and supervision. Normally it would be unlikely for a lower level employee of a larger corporation to cost that corporation over $20 million dollars, but, as shown here, it is not impossible.
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