- A jury has ordered Alex Jones to pay a total of over $49 million for defaming the Sandy Hook parents.
- That included $45.2 million in punitive damages, which Texas law caps at $750,000.
- Legal experts said that even if the damages are reduced, the jury’s decision still sends a message.
A judge on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay more than $45 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim as punishment for lying 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 claims that the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut school shooting was a “hoax.” Their 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was among the 26 people killed. Jones repeatedly lied about the shooting but acknowledged in court this week that it was true.
A jury on Thursday awarded the parents $4.1 million in damages, intended to compensate the injured party for their losses. That was significantly less than the $150 million their lawyers were asking for. The next day, the court returned a much heavier punitive damages award, ordering Jones to pay $45.2 million. Punitive damages, as the name suggests, are intended to punish the wrongdoer.
However, law in Texas, where Jones and his company are based, puts a cap on how high punitive damages can be, meaning the amount he could ultimately be ordered to pay could be much lower.
“Texas has a $750,000 cap on punitive damages for emotional distress, so the $45.2 million award will likely be reduced,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Lawyershe said.
Under the $750,000 cap, Jones could be ordered to pay that amount to each plaintiff, totaling $1.5 million — just over 3 percent of what the jury decided was the appropriate punishment for his lies.
When Jones’ attorney brought the cap to court after the jury’s verdict was read, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble he recognized it and said “We have laws in Texas where we claim to trust our juries and then we don’t trust our juries.”
Gamble took no immediate action to address the dispute, but Jones’ attorney said he will file a motion to reduce damages, so the judge may reduce the award.
Jones’ attorney also told reporters outside court that he believed the verdict was too high and that because of the cap he believed punitive damages would eventually reach $1.5 million.
said Mark Bankston, the parents’ attorney Bloomberg’s Law would push back on the court if it moves to reduce punitive damages.
“We do not believe that punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied in our case and we will certainly appeal this issue if necessary,” he said.
Damage caps are relatively common in the US, although they vary widely by state.
Joshua Rittera Los Angeles-based criminal attorney, told Insider that while damages will likely be reduced, the jury’s decision sends a message that “the Sandy Hook shooting was a tragedy and that media personalities cannot take advantage of this tragedy to gain more viewers or boost their popularity.”
“To do so is not only inappropriate and disgusting, it’s illegal,” he said, adding that another defamation case against Jones is coming soon in Connecticut, where the laws are more likely to favor parents than in Texas.
Ritter said he believes most defendants who receive that verdict would rush to settle the Connecticut case, rather than risk another jury returning a similarly large damages class. However, he noted that Jones “doesn’t operate by the same set of rules as anyone else.”
The trial this week marked the first time Jones has been ordered to pay restitution related to his Sandy Hook claims. He is awaiting additional trials that will determine how much he must pay other Sandy Hook families who filed 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 payments.
The defamation lawsuits could be just the beginning of Jones’ legal troubles, as legal experts told Insider Jones he could face perjury charges after revelations in court this week suggested he may have lied in oaths.