Friday, January 27, 2012

UPDATE: Nancy Benoit Heirs Ask 11th Circ. to Reinstate $20m Judgment Against Hustler Magazine

Chris Benoit, one of the World Wrestling Enter...Image via WikipediaA three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit this week heard arguments from the family of the late model/pro wrestler Nancy (Toffolini) Benoit to reinstate a $20 million judgment in their invasion of privacy suit against Hustler Magazine's parent company, Larry Flynt Publishing Group LLC, which published nude photos of Benoit a year after she and her seven-year-old son were strangled by her pro wrestler husband, Chris Benoit, in a murder/suicide in June 2007.

Last June, a jury awarded Nancy Benoit's family $19.6 million in punitive damages, along with $125,000 in compensatory damages, but U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr. reduced the $19.6 million to $250,000, citing Georgia's statutory cap on punitive damages. (See "TUOL" post 6/20/11.) As reported by the Daily Mail online edition (, Associated Press and the ABA Journal Law News Now blog, counsel for Nancy Benoit's Estate argued the adult magazine "acted...with intent to harm" the plaintiff, an exception to the statutory cap, so the $19.6 million puntive damages award should be reinstated. Counsel for the defendant argued on First Amendment grounds that the matter was wrongly tried in the first instance because the photos of Nancy Benoit were newsworthy, involving a matter of public concern, a recognized defense to invasion of privacy claims.
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  1. Interesting that the Benoit estate counsel claims "intent to harm" against a corporate entity. That charge seems inappropriate unless there was some personal relationship between the defendant and the individual(s) making the publication decision. Wasn't the magazine's intent more likely to have been to maximize circulation and profit, with harm being collateral damage? -- But perhaps I'm being too literal in interpreting "intent to harm."

  2. There is a right to publicity privacy claim--appropriating the victim's image without her consent. There was an issue about Mrs. Benoit allegedly requesting the nude modeling photos be destroyed or believing they were, if memory serves.