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Sportscaster Erin Andrews has triumphed in a Nashville courtroom and then ignited social media by winning a $55 million judgment against the stalker who filmed her nude and the hotel where the incident occurred, but her spectacular seeming victory will certainly turn into a far smaller payout.
Her stalker, Michael Barrett, is on the hook for $28 million of that judgment, but Andrews will never see that money. “They can garnish his wages, but there’s essentially nothing to collect,” says Rick Sanders, a litigator based in Nashville and a partner at Aaron & Sanders. “He’s a perfect example of a judgment-proof defendant.”
That leaves the Nashville Marriott and the company that operates it responsible for a little less than $27 million. But Andrews won’t get that amount either.
The hotel’s legal team has not yet announced their plans, but Sanders says they will ask Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Hamilton Gayden to do one of three things — overturn the whole judgment, ask for a new trial or request a reduction in damages. “It’s very rare for a judge to overturn a case like this,” says Sanders. “He’d have to believe that the jury had lost its mind.”
Many legal experts predict that the case will end in a settlement before it goes to appeals court. “If I’m the defendant, I’d make my settlement push now, because the farther this case goes, the stronger the position of Andrews becomes,” says Sanders, noting that it’s unlikely that an appellate court that wasn’t present for the original proceedings would overturn the judgment.
While TMZ and other outlets speculate that Andrews might have to pay up to 40 percent of the recoverable judgment to her lawyers, Sanders doubts that someone as wealthy as Andrews who hired a first-rate legal team would have done so with a contingency fee. Unlike many less affluent clients, Andrews could probably afford to pay for her attorneys on a pro-rata basis. Sanders estimates that her representation might have run in the neighborhood of $1 million.
So if Andrews settles with the Nashville Marriott for $20 million, she’s left with something like $19 million. But she won’t get that amount either.
The last hit would come from the IRS. Awards for emotional distress without any physical injuries are taxable. So if Andrews settled for $20 million, her actual payout would be closer to $10 million. Not a shabby sum, of course, but only 18 percent of the widely reported $55 million judgment.
Sanders, who practices in the same county in which this case took place, was surprised at the judgment. “Davidson County juries have a reputation for being parsimonious,” he says. “I’m shocked at the amount. There have been people who have been killed because of negligence who’ve gotten a lot less than this.”