A United States jury has awarded a sports journalist a $US55 million ($A74 million) payout in her lawsuit against a stalker who secretly filmed her in the nude and shared the explicit video online.
Sports reporter Erin Andrews, 37, brought the lawsuit against the accused stalker Michael Barrett and the operator of the Nashville Marriot Hotel, where she was filmed by the man who booked a room next to hers in 2008.
During her testimony, Ms Andrews explained she was deeply traumatised by the event and embarrassed by the millions of views the video, which runs almost five minutes, had online.
The jury found that Barrett should take 51 per cent of the blame and the hotel the rest – however legal experts told The New Daily not to expect this kind of payout for a civil case in Australia.
“The US is certainly a much more litigious culture,” barrister and associate professor at Monash University Law School Gideon Boas said.
“The main reason [for lower remedies paid in Australia] is because Australia, like most Commonwealth jurisdictions, has implemented legislation to limit and define the scope of damages that are claimed.”
Ms Andrews’ parents told of the terror their family felt after discovering the video but not knowing who filmed it, where it was shot and if someone was still watching their daughter.
Ms Andrews thanked the court and the jury, tweeting: “The support I’ve received from the people of Nashville has been overwhelming.”
“I would also like to thank my family, friends and legal team,” she added. “I’ve been honoured by all the support from victims around the world.”
Her lawyers argued the hotel should not have told Barrett which room Ms Andrews was in, and should have prevented him from booking a room next to hers.
An FBI investigation found Barrett shot videos in the hotel and posted them online. In the civil trial the judge found Barrett at fault but left it to the jury to decide if the hotel owner should share blame.
The Marriott Hotel in question was a franchised location to other owners.
Ms Andrews said Barrett’s arrest and imprisonment did not make things better. She repeatedly cried on the stand and said she suffered because people still watched the videos and taunted her about them.
“This happens every day of my life,” she said. “Either I get a tweet or somebody makes a comment in the paper or somebody sends me a still video to my Twitter or someone screams it at me in the stands and I’m right back to this. I feel so embarrassed and I am so ashamed.”
Lower damages in Australia ‘a cultural thing’: experts
Legal experts told The New Daily that there were reasons to explain why multi-million-dollar damages payouts were rare in Australian civil law.
“There is just something in the culture of our legal system that makes those sort of wild damages not something that courts tend to allow,” Monash University’s Assoc Prof Boas said.
“Australia has legislated to limit damages largely to protect insurers although the argument is by doing that you reduce premiums but that’s debatable.
“In Victoria for example, there is the Wrongs Act (1958) which limits the amount of economic loss that a person claim for a negligence case.
“There are tables in certain jurisdictions – like transport accidents or work accidents – that indicate a certain amount of money in term of damaging payments.”
Restrictions on defamation payouts, for example, were tightened in Australia in 2006.
Principal lawyer at Cove Legal, Roger Blow, told The New Daily high damages in the US “led to a lot of strategic cases being pursued in America”.
He said numerous cases were involved in “forum shopping”, where claimants found technicalities to allow cases be heard in the US.
“People end up suing in America because that’s where all the real money comes,” he said.
Mr Blow said the culture in Australia was one that was more willing to let government intervene in litigation rules via legislation to limit damages.
“In terms of general damages here we tend to work in the tens to hundreds of thousands and millions not too often.
“In the US there is a court system that allows million-dollar damages to occur and government is kept out of the process of the expression of individual values and freedoms.”
Mr Blow warned that despite the initial payout amount being massive, it would be unlikely that either the hotel or the stalker could meet it.
He said it would not be surprising if the eventual payout to Ms Andrews was lower.