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Hustler Lawsuit's $20M Award Reduced by Judge

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 24, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Hustler lawsuit's $20 million judgment against the magazine for publishing nude Nancy Benoit photos after her death has been reduced to $375,000 by a federal judge.

Nancy Benoit was married to professional wrestler Chris Benoit. Nancy and her 7-year-old son, Daniel, were strangled to death by Chris Benoit in 2007. Chris Benoit then committed suicide, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Nancy Benoit originally posed for the nude photographs when she was an aspiring model back in 1983, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hustler magazine published the nude photos after Nancy Benoit's death, originally defending their actions by saying that the photos were newsworthy. Her family sued the magazine, and was originally awarded $125,000 in compensatory damages and $19.6 million in punitive damages by the jury, reports WSBTV-TV.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. overturned the jury's damages award, stating that the punitive damages could not exceed Georgia's $250,000 punitive damages cap. The cap can only be exceeded if it is proven that the defendant intended the harm, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Nancy Benoit's family's attorney told WSBTV-TV that the family was considering an appeal to the 11th Circuit.

Generally, punitive damages are awarded when the defendant's actions are offensive or wrong. They're meant to "punish" the defendant in a way, or get the defendant to change or reform their actions.

In most states, there is often a cap on punitive damages for certain cases. Advocates for caps or reforms to the amount of punitive damages that can be given usually say that the punitive damages awarded in any given case should be somewhat proportional to the amount of compensatory damages, or actual harm suffered by the plaintiff.

Though even without the huge punitive damages verdict, the Hustler lawsuit has likely garnered the magazine enough bad publicity for its callously publishing nude Nancy Benoit photos after her death. The jury's huge monetary verdict probably only goes to show how the jury felt about the magazine's actions - that it was, in fact, harmful to the family.

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