A federal appeals court threw out a $1.8 million settlement awarded to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura for claims that he was defamed by late author Chris Kyle in his book “American Sniper.” The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also sent a portion of the case regarding Ventura’s defamation claim back to district court for a new trial. The court stated that Ventura’s attorneys made improper remarks that led to the settlement and that the trial court abused its discretion in denying a new trial.
In 2014 Ventrua successfully sued Kyle for a sub chapter of Kyle’s book entitled “Punching Out Scruff Face.” In this sub chapter Kyle claims to have “punched out” Ventura at California bar in 2006 after Ventura made heinous comments about Navy SEALs and said that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” in the Middle East. The two men are at odds on whether or not the event even happened. Ventura claims the story was fabricated by Kyle for his book while Kyle gave sworn videotaped testimony that the story was true before his death in 2013.
Both men are former Navy SEALS but were unable to come to an agreement on the incident in question and took the case to court. Ventura was awarded $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. Ventura’s attorneys argued that the allegedly fabricated interaction destroyed his reputation among the tight-knit SEAL community.
Unhappy with the ruling Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, filed for an appeal. On Monday, a three-judge appellate panel official reversed the $1.3 million unjust enrichment award. They stated that the theory of unjust enrichment “enjoys no legal support under Minnesota law” and fails as a matter of law. A majority of the judges also overturned the defamation ruling and sent that part of the trial back to court for a new trial.
The appellate judges ruled that Ventura’s attorneys improperly let the jury hear that the publisher Kyle’s book had an insurance policy to cover any potential defamation awards or attorney fees during their closing statement. They ruled these comments were purposely slipped in order to influence the jury in Ventura’s favor under the assumption a “deep-pocket insurer” would “pick up the tab” for Kyle’s family. The judge’s official statement can be read below:
“Ventura’s counsel’s closing remarks, in combination with the improper cross-examination of two witnesses about Kyle’s insurance coverage, prevented Kyle from receiving a fair trial.”
The judge’s ruling indicates that Ventura’s attorneys used underhanded tactics to take advantage of the jury. They claim that the $500,000 award for defamation was excessive and should be overturned despite protests from Ventura’s legal counsel. The case will be returned to lower court in the coming months so that Kyle’s family can seek justice for the outrageous settlement granted to Ventura.