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Appeals Court Overturns $1.8 Million Verdict for Jesse Ventura in ‘American Sniper’ Case

A federal appellate court overturned a $1.8 million ruling in favor of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in his defamation lawsuit against the estate of Chris Kyle, the author of “American Sniper.”

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals set aside a jury’s $500,000 award to Ventura for defamation and ordered a new trial. They also threw out a jury’s award of an additional $1.35 million to Ventura for unjust enrichment, concluding that it “enjoys no legal support under Minnesota law.”

Ventura challenged a chapter in the book that described a confrontation Kyle had with an unnamed celebrity at a California bar in 2006. In the chapter, Kyle describes the confrontation, in which the celebrity disparaged the Navy SEALs, telling him, “You deserve to lose a few,” and that Kyle ended up punching the man out; Kyle later identified that figure as Ventura.

Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range in Texas in 2013.

Ventura sued, and a jury awarded him the damages after a lengthy trial in 2014.

But the appellate court found Kyle’s estate did not receive a fair defamation trial because Ventura’s attorney, in a closing argument, suggested that Kyle’s estate would be covered by insurance via his publisher, HarperCollins. The judges said that it was “difficult to see how Ventura’s counsel’s comments were anything other than a ‘deliberate strategic choice’ to try to influence and enhance damages by referencing an impersonal deep-pocket insurer.”

The MPAA and 32 media companies and organizations urged the court to overturn the verdict in an amicus brief.

Judge Lavenski Smith dissented on the decision to throw out the defamation award but concurred on the decision to dismiss the unjust enrichment claim.

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