US: Alex Jones may win huge cut in Sandy Hook punitive damages award, attorneys say

His lawyer expects it to be reduced to $1.5 million



Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

By Reuters

Published: Tue 9 Aug 2022, 10:34 AM

US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones could end up owing as little as 10 per cent of the $45.2 million in punitive damages that a Texas jury awarded to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim last week, legal experts told Reuters on Monday.

A jury handed down the punitive damages' verdict on Friday, after awarding the parents $4.1 million in compensatory damages on Thursday, as a result of a two-week trial in Austin, Texas, where Jones’ Infowars radio show and webcast is based.

Jones was found last year to have defamed parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, by spreading lies that they were part of a government plot to stage the massacre.

While juries have broad discretion on awards, Texas law caps punitive damages at $750,000 when economic losses are not involved, as in this case.

Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told Reuters by email that because Jones and his company face three claims each, he estimates the cap would be $4.5 million. Bankston said he would argue that the damages cap did not apply, but declined to elaborate.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble is to approve the final amount: a decision that is expected soon.

Jones' lawyer, Federico Andino Reynal, said in court on Friday that he would seek to reduce the $45.2 million punitive damages award, because it did not comply with Texas law. He confirmed to Reuters on Monday that he planned to invoke the cap.

According to the New York Times, Reynal has said that he expected the punitive award to be reduced to $1.5 million.

Several defamation lawyers said that they were sceptical of the parents being able to get around the cap.

"They're not going to collect it all- no way," Texas defamation lawyer Chuck Sanders said.

The initial number will still be a lasting deterrent to spreading misinformation if the verdict is cut significantly, Sanders said.

Even if the parents can convince Judge Gamble that the cap should not apply, the Texas Supreme Court's precedent holds that the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages should rarely exceed four-to-one. The jury's verdict, in this case, represents an 11-to-1 ratio.

In reaching their decision, the Texas justices cited a 2003 decision by the US Supreme Court, which said that the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages should only exceed single digits in rare cases.

Jones' company, Free Speech Systems LLC, filed for bankruptcy protection on July 29, pausing two other Sandy Hook cases against Jones.

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