- A jury ordered Alex Jones to pay a total of more than $49 million for defaming the parents of Sandy Hook.
- That included $45.2 million in punitive damages, which Texas law caps at $750,000.
- Legal experts said even if the damages are reduced, the jury’s decision still sends a message.
A jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay more than $45 million to the parents of Sandy Hook victims as punishment for the lies he told about the shooting that killed their son – but that amount is likely to be reduced.
The parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, sued Jones and his media company for defamation over his claim that the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a “hoax”. Her 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was among the 26 people killed. Jones repeatedly lied about the shooting but admitted in court this week that it was true.
The jury on Thursday awarded the parents $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the injured party for their loss. It was far less than the $150 million sought by their lawyers. The next day, the jury returned a much tougher ruling on punitive damages, ordering Jones to pay $45.2 million. Punitive damages, as the name implies, are intended to punish the wrongdoer.
However, the law in Texas, where Jones and his company are based, places a limit on how high punitive damages can be, meaning he could end up paying what he could order. be much lower.
“Texas has a cap of $750,000 on punitive damages for emotional distress, so the award will likely be reduced by $45.2 million,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
Under the $750,000 limit, Jones could be ordered to pay that amount to each plaintiff, which is $1.5 million – just over 3% of what the jury decided was the appropriate punishment for his lies.
When Jones’ lawyer raised the cap in court after the jury’s decision was read, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble acknowledged it and said “we have laws in Texas where we demand that we trust our jurors and then we don’t from our juries.”
Gamble did not immediately take steps to address the discrepancy, but Jones’ lawyer said he would file a motion to reduce the damages, at which point the judge may reduce the judgment.
Jones’ lawyer also told reporters outside the courthouse that he thought the verdict was too high and believed the punitive damages cap was $1.5 million.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told Bloomberg Law that he would push back against the court if he seeks to reduce punitive damages.
“We do not believe that punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied to our case and we will certainly litigate that issue if necessary,” he said.
Damages caps are fairly common in the United States, although they vary greatly by state.
Joshua Ritter, a Los Angeles-based criminal attorney, told Insider that while the damages are likely to be reduced, the jury’s decision sends a message that “the Sandy Hook shooting was a tragedy and media personalities cannot capitalize on the tragedy to get that. more viewers or increase their own demand.”
“Not only is that untidy and disgraceful, it’s also illegal,” he said, adding that another defamation case against Jones is coming up soon in Connecticut, where the laws are more likely to in favor of the parents than in Texas.
Ritter said he thinks most defendants receiving this verdict would rush to settle the Connecticut case, rather than risk another jury returning a large damages order. But he noted that Jones “isn’t operating under the same set of rules as anyone else.”
This week’s trial was the first time Jones has been ordered to pay damages related to his Sandy Hook claims. He is awaiting further trials that will determine how much he must pay other Sandy Hook families who brought lawsuits. He recently filed for bankruptcy on behalf of his media company, a move that Sandy Hook families and legal experts said appeared to be an attempt to avoid the payouts.
The defamation lawsuits could be the start of Jones’ legal troubles, as legal experts said Insider Jones could face felony charges after revelations in court this week that he may have lied under oath.