Media & Communications Law

Jesse Ventura wins $1.8M in actual-malice defamation trial over best-selling memoir

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Jesse Ventura said it wasn’t about the money, but he has nonetheless won what many would consider big bucks.

After five days of deliberation, a federal jury in Minnesota on Tuesday awarded $1.8 million to the former state governor in a defamation case over a best-selling memoir by a former Navy SEAL, according to the Associated Press and the New York Times (reg. req.).

Ventura got $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment, the Times reports. He originally sued the author of American Sniper, Chris Kyle, whom the AP identifies as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history. He continued the case against Kyle’s widow, who is the executor of his estate, after Kyle was killed last year in a Texas shooting.

At issue in the case was a portion of the 2012 book in which Kyle claimed to have decked Ventura in a bar fight in California in 2006, after the former governor allegedly criticized the SEALs. In videotaped testimony before his death, Kyle defended the accuracy of his account. Ventura said he was in the bar that night but made no such comments.

Ventura, who is also a former wrestler and currently hosts the Off the Grid digital video show, is a public figure, which required him to prove actual malice on the part of Kyle in order to win the defamation claim.

He was represented by attorney David Bradley Olsen, who had asked for an award of between $5 million and $15 million. After the verdict, Olsen said Ventura felt no one had really won in the case.

“He’s certainly grateful for the verdict but his reputation with an entire generation of young SEALs may never be repaired,” said Olsen. However, “It is a victory in the sense that the jury did tell the world that Chris Kyle’ story is a lie and was a fabrication.”

Jurors left the courthouse without commenting Tuesday. They reached a an 8-2 verdict after lawyers for both sides agreed a non-unanimous decision, so long as at least eight jurors approved it.

Attorney John Borger represented Kyle’s side of the case. He says the estate may appeal. Asked about the split verdict he said “That was a strategic call that seemed appropriate at the time.”

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