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Joe “Girls Gone Wild” Francis Ordered to Pay $40 Million for Slander

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Girls Gone Wild by Daniel X. O'Neil on Flickr

Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil on Flickr

“Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis has been ordered to pay $40 million for slandering casino owner Steve Wynn.

A jury found Francis liable for claiming in a television interview that Wynn had threatened to kill him over a gambling debt; the jury award includes $20 million in actual damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

In August, Francis had told “Good Morning America” that he had received an email threatening his life: “In all caps, and then exclamation points—like a crazy person’s email—[Wynn wrote], ‘I’m going to hit to him in the back of the head with a shovel and have him buried in the middle of the desert,’” Francis said. “I was afraid for my life. He made it very clear that he wanted to kill me.”

Wynn sued Francis claiming the statements were false and harming his reputation. It had been alleged that Quincy Jones, the famed music producer, had seen the email in question, but in court Jones testified that he hadn’t. The jury sided with Wynn, finding the GMA interview particularly egregious.

To prove slander in California, a plaintiff must show that a statement of fact was published, false, unprivileged, has a natural tendency to injure or causes “special damage,” and that the defendant was negligent.

Francis is appealing the decision, but Wynn has expressed his satisfaction. “Thank God for the justice system that finally sent a message: If you think you’re taking a cheap shot, it may be a lot more expensive than you had imagined,” Wynn said in a statement.

What do you think of the verdict? Did Francis’ statement amount to slander? And is $40 million an appropriate amount of damages?

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September 18th, 2012 at 1:05 pm