On Monday, a federal appeals court revoked $1.8 million in damages awarded to former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. According to Ventura, his reputation was tarnished by the late Chris Kyle in his bestseller, American Sniper.
Kyle never referred to the former Minnesota governor by name, but identified him as a “celebrity” when he was promoting his book. Ventura, a former underwater demolitions SEAL member, embarked on a successful professional wrestling career after leaving the military, going by the name Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Former SEAL Chris Kyle, touted as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history with over 160 confirmed kills, suggested in his book that Ventura disrespected a SEAL who lost his life during the war in Iraq. According to Kyle, Ventura said SEALS “deserve to lose a few.”
Chris Kyle said the offensive comment immediately sparked a bar fight between himself and Ventura. However, the former Minnesota governor denied the incident ever occurred and claims the book ruined his reputation.
Kyle mentioned the alleged altercation in a subchapter called “Punching Out Scruff Face.” According to the book, Jesse Ventura made the disrespectful statement while other SEALS were mourning the death of Michael Mansoor — who was killed in Iraq and posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor.
Chris Kyle wrote that he asked Ventura to “cool it,” and the former wrestler responded by taking a swing at him before he “laid him out.”
In 2014, a Minnesota jury determined Ventura should awarded $500,000 in damages and $1.3 million in “unjust enrichment,” which is a term used by the court when someone profits at the expense of another.
— The American Lawyer (@AmericanLawyer) June 14, 2016
The Daily Mail reports Chris Kyle, 39, was killed at a Texas shooting range by Eddie Ray Routh, 25. According to reports, Routh was a veteran who was struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Routh was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kyle, who did four tours in Iraq and recorded his 160 kills between 1999 and 2009, was awarded one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, two Silver Stars, and Five Bronze Stars with Valor.
— UPI.com (@UPI) June 13, 2016
Kyle’s widow, Taya, appealed for the verdict in the Jesse Ventura case to be overturned and requested a new trial on the grounds of her late husband’s First Amendment rights.
According to Fox News, the federal appeals court agreed to refer a portion of Jesse Ventura’s defamation claim back to the district court for a new trial, pointing out that Ventura’s legal counsel made inappropriate remarks during the course of the trial.
Jesse Ventura’s attorneys argued that Kyle’s widow had nothing to worry about and would be allowed to “plead for poverty if an insurance company is going to pick up the tab.” The court in its ruling said the statement was “improper and prejudicial.”
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the lower court’s decision after seven witnesses confirmed they heard the offensive remarks that Ventura made in the bar. All the witnesses were either current or former Navy SEALS or friends or family of SEALS. Three individuals, who testified on Ventura’s behalf, also admitted they were not at the bar for the entire evening and confessed they may have left before the altercation began.
The higher court also learned the district court made a mistake in allowing attorneys to interview employees of publishing house HarperCollins about the book American Sniper. Ventura’s attorneys reportedly asked employees whether an insurance policy was issued to cover libel and defamation claims.
The appeals court ruled that the question influenced the jury, and therefore prevented the Kyle estate from receiving a fair trial. The court also suggested the interviews increased the possibility of a higher award amount by making reference to a “deep-pocket insurer.”
In Monday’s ruling, the three-judge panel concluded by saying the “unjust-enrichment” reward initially granted to Jesse Ventura had “no legal support under Minnesota law” and therefore held no weight in a court of law.
[Photo by AP Photo/Jim Mone]