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What Could Infowars' Alex Jones Pay in Defamation Damages to Sandy Hook Parents?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

A Texas court began proceedings to determine how much Alex Jones must pay the parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims for his defamatory statements. The defamation action arises from his denial and conspiracy theories regarding the deadliest classroom shooting in the U.S.

There are two separate lawsuits where a Texas court found Jones guilty by default judgment. A default judgment is when a defendant does not answer a complaint in time or disregards court orders. In this case, the court entered a default judgment against Jones for failing to produce requested documents to the court.

The parents of Sandy Hook victims filed defamation lawsuits for Jones' false statements about the shooting and claiming that the shooting was a "hoax." But what remedy do the parents have? This article discusses damages for defamation actions.

What Damages Are Available for Defamation Actions?

Defamation actions cover a wide range of circumstances where a party is injured. Courts determine if the defamatory statements caused the plaintiff to suffer economic loss or mental or emotional anguish. A court can also award punitive damages intending to punish willful or malicious statements.

Here is a closer look at the remedies offered for defamation actions:

General Damages

A jury can award compensation for past and future harm when a plaintiff suffers mental or emotional distress, personal humiliation, or damage to their reputation. For example, when a YouTube blogger posted defamatory statements about grammy award winner Cardi B, a jury awarded the rapper $1 million for injury to her reputation.

Special Damages

Special damages are specifically for a plaintiff suffering economic loss. For example, if someone falsely accuses a caterer of food poisoning and the caterer loses catering jobs as a result of those accusations. The money the caterer lost could be awarded as special damages.

In the recent infamous Depp v. Heard celebrity trial, actor Johnny Depp sued ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation. He claimed her statements in a Washington Post op-ed cost him acting roles and economic loss.

Nominal Damages

A jury can award nominal damages when there is evidence of defamation, but there was no serious harm to the plaintiff's reputation.

In this case, Jones' defense lawyer asks the jury to award nominal damages. He claims Jones is already banned from popular social media sites for hate speech and has lost millions of dollars. Plaintiffs' lawyers dispute these claims, citing Jones' profits of over $165 million from 2015 to 2018.

Punitive or Exemplary Damages

In addition to the damages above, a jury can award punitive damages to punish a defendant. Punitive damages are often used when a plaintiff was willful or malicious in making the statements or to set an example for others.

Plaintiffs, in this case, are asking for general and punitive damages. They cite the pain and suffering caused by Jones creating the conspiracy theories and the resulting harassment and death threats made by Jones' followers.

Truth is a Defense to Damages

A defense to paying damages for defamatory statements is that the statement is true.

However, in his deposition, Jones admitted that he believed the Sandy Hook shooting was not a hoax. Therefore, he cannot use truth as a defense. Jones also claims that even if he knew his statements were false, he is protected under the First Amendment right to "free speech." However, First Amendment protections do not cover defamation, especially when the statements are false.

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