Erin Andrews’ Privacy Lawsuit and its Possible Effect on Hotel Policy

erinandrewsBy Joe Davison

On March 7th, 2016, a jury awarded $55 million to Erin Andrews, a famous sports reporter and cohost of the popular show Dancing With The Stars, in an invasion of privacy lawsuit. In 2008, Michael David Barrett, a convicted stalker, secretly videotaped Andrews through the peephole in her hotel room door at a Marriot hotel in Nashville. Barrett had conned a hotel employee into confirming Andrews’ hotel reservation and asked to reserve the adjoining room. After filming Andrews while she was undressing, Barrett posted the video online.

After the video went viral, Andrews sued Barrett and the companies that owned and operated the hotel for invasion of privacy, negligence, and infliction of emotional distress. In the criminal case, the court sentenced Barrett to two-and-a-half years in prison after he admitted stalking Andrews at three different hotel locations and filming her on two separate occasions.

In bringing the civil suit, Andrews said she hoped to force the hotels to be more vigilant when they check-in guests. In a written statement, Andrews said, “[a]lthough I’ll never be able to fully erase the impact that this invasion of privacy has had upon me and my family, I do hope that my experience will cause the hospitality industry to be more vigilant in protecting its guests from the time they reserve a hotel room until they check out.”

The jury found Barrett liable for taking the videos through a peephole and posting them online. The jury also found the hotel negligent in releasing Andrews’ room information and for allowing Barrett to book a room next to hers.

In awarding the $55 million, the jury found that Barrett was 51% liable and the hotel companies 49% liable. This award is reportedly one of the highest in the history of Tennessee. Yet it is unlikely that Andrews will ever see much of the money. Barrett, a former insurance agent, is unlikely to have the $28 million he owes or enough assets to make it worthwhile for Andrews to seek money from him. Even attaching a percentage of Barrett’s future earnings would appear to be fruitless.

If Barrett is unable to pay, his 51% may have to be shouldered by the hotel companies, a result of co-defendants’ joint and several liability. The hotel is almost certain to appeal the large award, leading to a long, drawn-out legal battle. In these circumstances, it is likely that the parties will settle for a significantly lower amount.

This damages award could lead to substantial procedural changes in hotel privacy policy. Under hotel premises law, a hotel is expected to make reasonable efforts to guarantee the privacy of its guests. The size of Andrews’ award is likely to be a wake-up call for many hotels and should result in a review of important privacy procedures. Many hotels protect patron’s room numbers by writing it on their room key, instead of verbally telling the patron. Additional privacy standards are necessary. New training for front desk staff may be necessary to create an awareness of criminal behavior. Hotels should also consider accommodating a request for adjoining rooms only with the consent of both parties. Simply informing a guest that another patron is staying at that particular hotel should be forbidden without the patron’s consent. As juror Noble Taylor stated, the point of the large award was to “sen[d] a message out to the hotels and the chains to do better than what they’ve done.” These changes would certainly indicate that the message has been received.

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