On Monday, a jury in Nashville awarded sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews $55 million in her lawsuit over a 2008 stalking incident and subsequent peeping tom video that went viral on the internet.
The judgment is to be split — Michael Barrett, her stalker who plead guilty to the crime and served 30 months in jail, is on the hook for 51 percent of it, while hotel owners and operators Windsor Capitol and West End Hotel Partners are responsible for 49 percent. Andrews had initially asked for $75 million.
In her harrowing testimony during the trial, Andrews recounted her initial anguish over the release of the video, and the impact it still has on her life today. She alleged that the hotel owners were responsible because the hotel provided Barrett with the room next to her when he requested it, and never informed her of his request. It’s clear by the judgement that the jury agrees.
The hope is that a judgment like this will force hotels across the nation to be more diligent when it comes to security, particularly that of women.
— Erin Andrews (@ErinAndrews) March 7, 2016
Unfortunately, for many, the reaction to this verdict hasn’t been relief or reassurance — it’s been outrage.
“No disrespect to the jury in the Erin Andrews case, but I can’t breathe,” Gersh Kuntzman wrote for the New York Daily News, callously misappropriating Eric Garner’s infamous final words. “Fifty-five million dollars because people got to see Erin Andrews naked on the internet.”
“Such a huge jury verdict makes a mockery of real pain and genuine suffering,” he continued, pointing out that plaintiffs in wrongful death cases such as Garner’s were awarded much less than Andrews, who merely experienced a little bit of “embarrassment.”
The popular sports blog Barstool Sports expressed a similar sentiment, with writer El Presidente saying it didn’t matter whether Andrews “was in on this or not” or “truly scarred by this or not.” He said that the day her stalker filmed her without her permission and leaked video of her naked body all over the internet was “the greatest day of her life.”
“The question is whether she’s still allowed to act like a victim anymore? I feel like that should be part of the settlement. Erin gets more money than God, but she can’t bitch and moan about it anymore. She can’t pretend to be the victim anymore,” he wrote.
Fox News has piled on too, with legal expert Arthur Aidala saying the judgement is “ridiculous” and “way too much,” partly because “[Andrews’] career has skyrocketed since that happened.”
All of these perspectives aren’t just misogynistic and full of victim-blaming tropes, they’re also down-right damaging to victims everywhere since they imply — or explicitly state — that Andrews’ suffering has been trivial. They also completely miss the point.
Andrews is not going to get a $55 million lump-sum payment tomorrow, and she’s likely to never get anything close to that. Barrett most certainly doesn’t have the ability to pay even a fraction of the $28 million he’s on the hook for, and the hotel owners will likely appeal and try to settle for a lower amount. Add in attorney fees and other litigation expenses, and the gaudy number dwindles quickly. (Some have estimated she’s get as low as $6 million when all is said and done.)
If the jury filled out a jury worksheet, then we should soon find out exactly how they arrived at the $55 million figure, but it’s not hard to imagine how that would happen.
“[K]eep in mind that more than 17 million people to date have viewed the the surreptitious video of Andrews naked in her hotel room,” Julie DiCaro wrote for CBS Chicago. “If the jury were to assign a dollar value to each view — say about $3 in damages per view — we arrive at the $55 million figure fairly quickly.”
And as many experts have pointed out, this judgement needed to be something that would hopefully prompt a change in policies in the sprawling hotel industry.
“Six million dollars would not cause a shiver in the hotel industry,” Dr. Keith Ablow said in response to Aidala on Fox News. “That’s what we want. We want things to be safe.”
It’s also crucial to remember that the jury was not tasked with comparing Andrews’ suffering to all of the great tragedies in the world. They were asked to look at the mental, emotional, and physical pain and suffering Andrews has endured, and gauge her subsequent loss of capacity for the enjoyment for life.
Andrews broke down repeatedly during the trial discussing how the shame of the incident still follows her around seven years later.
‘‘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.’’
Her father also took the stand and talked about how much his daughter has changed since the video was released online.
“She’s terrified. She’s depressed. She cries. She’s full of anxiety. She’s a very, very changed person. She’s not the girl that we used to know at all,” he said.
On behalf of my family and myself, thank you to the people of #Nashville for looking out and standing up for my little girl.
— Steve Andrews (@WFLASteveA) March 8, 2016
So while yes, there are plenty of people suffering all over the world, this jury was presented with a woman who has experienced very real emotional and mental distress by no fault of her own. So often pain and suffering is measured by visible scars, and it’s significant for victims everywhere that jurors found Andrews’ unseen scars worth compensating.
But as another writer at Barstool Sports noted, it’s crucial to remember that this was not a “win” for Andrews. “I bet Erin Andrews would trade the settlement she got yesterday to undo the feelings she felt during this whole process,” he wrote.
The point is, Andrews never asked for any of this. She was travelling for her job — a job that she was already incredibly successful at — and was violated by a criminal whose acts were made possible because of the negligence by a hotel that she was paying to stay in.
She has to deal with the consequences of those acts every day of her life. The video is still on the internet. People are still watching. She is still being blamed for what happened, and it’s likely that no matter what she achieves in her career, she always will be. She’s depressed. She’s anxious. She doesn’t feel safe anymore. And the ramifications are felt by women across the sports industry.
She took this case to civil court because she wanted to hold those responsible for safety and privacy accountable, so that other women don’t have to go through what she has.
When you look at it that way, $55 million doesn’t seem like nearly enough.