Seven years ago, Erin Andrews’ world was turned upside down. The longtime sideline reporter learned that in the fall of 2008, a bottom-feeder had followed her to a hotel in Nashville, fiddled with the peephole, and recorded her while in the nude. On Monday afternoon, a Nashville jury awarded Andrews $55 million in damages after agreeing that the hotel had utterly failed to keep a pervert away from her.
Michael Barrett, the former insurance agent who admitted that financial problems drove him to victimize Andrews, is in for more financial pain. The jury found that Barrett was 51 percent at fault, and put him on the hook for $28 million–an amount he may be paying for the rest of his life. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to stalking Andrews and several other women, and served 20 months in federal prison. However, it found that the Nashville Marriott’s owner, West End Partners, and its now-former management company, Windsor Capital Group, were 49 percent at fault; they will be responsible for the remaining $27 million.
Andrews issued the following statement soon after the verdict came down.
— Erin Andrews (@ErinAndrews) March 7, 2016
Anyone who thinks the jury awarded too much to Andrews should consider how Barrett was able to do what he himself admitted was “a terrible thing.” He admitted under oath that while on what he described as a “business trip” to Nashville, he called the Marriott’s front desk from the house phone in the hotel restaurant and asked to be connected to Andrews’ room. The screen on the phone showed Andrews’ room number, and Barrett was then able to check into the neighboring room. This should send a chill down anyone’s spine. No hotel worth its salt should make it that easy to find out where I’m staying.
Even in the face of this, the hotel claimed that Barrett was solely at fault. A hotel security expert testifying as an expert witness for the defense said that there was nothing the hotel could have possibly done to prevent Barrett from stalking Andrews. If I had been on the jury and I’d heard that, I would have felt insulted. The pervert who did this to Andrews just admitted how easily he got her room number, and there’s nothing the hotel could have done to stop him?
I had already wondered how many zeroes would be in the final amount awarded to Andrews when West End and Windsor didn’t have the decency to settle. But after hearing this security expert claim with a straight face that there was nothing that could have been done, there was no longer any doubt in my mind that West End and Windsor were going to pay dearly for a complete failure to protect their guests.
You also have to consider that it may be impossible to completely scrub those videos from the Internet. The video has been viewed almost 17 million times. According to Internet privacy attorney Carrie Goldberg, many people who watch videos like this download copies, and then re-upload them. I’ve flagged at least three such mirrors in the last week alone on YouTube.
In all likelihood, Andrews and her legal team will be playing whack-a-mole for the rest of her life while chasing down these mirrors. No wonder Andrews testified that the humiliation she still felt seven years ago “happens every day of my life.” And all because West End and Windsor breached one of the most sacred trusts in the hotel business.
Marriott International was initially included in the suit, but was removed in January when a judge found it wasn’t responsible for security at the individual hotels. There can be no doubt, however, that Marriott bears real-world responsibility. Wouldn’t you think that Marriott should be obligated to ensure that its franchisees make some effort to keep the Barretts of the world from finding out where we’re staying? After all, West End and Windsor’s names weren’t on the front of that hotel.
While lawyers for Windsor and West End are keeping mum about whether to appeal, both companies issued unreserved apologies to Andrews. Hopefully they will have the decency to cut their losses rather than prolong Andrews’ ordeal further. The signal must go out–what happened to Andrews was unacceptable, and must never be repeated at any hotel again. Ever.