Jesse's Vanishing Verdict

Robert Edwards Feb. 5, 2016

In yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune There was an article reporting that the appeals court had dismantled former governor Jesse Ventura's $1 million + verdict against the estate of Chris Kyle, who had written his autobiography, "American Sniper". Jesse claimed that in the book the author had written certain things about Jesse which were untrue and which harmed his reputation amongst the Seal community. The verdict had been approved by the trial judge but the appeals court decided that the trial judge was wrong and took away the majority of the verdict on the grounds that the damages that were awarded for unjust enrichment were not allowed by Minnesota law. They took away the rest of the verdict (about $500,000) on the specious grounds that the mere mention of insurance in the trial had been enough to prejudice the jury into reaching a verdict that they otherwise would not have.

It is important to note that the trial judge, who was there and had an opportunity to observe the jury, concluded that the mention of insurance wasn't prejudicial. Yet three judges on the appeals panel WHO WEREN'T THERE decided that it was.

As a practical matter everyone knows there's insurance at the bottom of almost every lawsuit. These three judges know that as well. This was just an excuse for them to get rid of a verdict that they didn't like. Judges and appellate court judges use this insurance fiction for this purpose more than people might think. It is, in my opinion, utter nonsense.