The most important part of the verdict handed down by a Nashville jury in Erin Andrews’s civil lawsuit against a hotel group and the man who stalked her in 2008 really isn’t the $55 million.
It’s what the verdict means for Andrews on an emotional level and for victims like her, as well as women who travel alone, going forward. For one thing, Andrews may not see the $55 million, which is to be paid by her stalker, the Marriott at Vanderbilt hotel’s ownership group and the hotel’s owner if, for instance, the sum is reduced or the verdict overturned on appeal. (Marriott International was dismissed as a defendant when the judge determined that the chain is not responsible for security at individual franchises.) Jurors determined that Michael David Barrett, a former insurance company executive, was 51 percent at fault and liable for 51 percent of the $55 million award. West End Hotel Partners, the hotel owner, and Windsor Capital Group, the hotel management company, are responsible for the other 49 percent.
For Andrews, the years since the incident have been something of an ordeal even as her career has taken off. Andrews, who offered tearful testimony during the trial and was forced to listen to defense attorneys argue that her career prospered after nude videos taken by Barrett went viral, stressed in a statement that, like many victims, she felt empowered by standing up to her stalker. Barrett, who filmed her without her knowledge through an altered peephole in an adjacent room at the hotel, has served time in prison for his crime.
“The support I’ve received from the people of Nashville has been overwhelming,” Andrews, who was seeking $75 million, said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I would also like to thank my family, friends and legal team. I’ve been honored by all the support from victims around the world. Their outreach has helped me be able to stand up and hold accountable those whose job it is to protect everyone’s safety, security and privacy.”
Her father has testified to the changes he has seen in Andrews since the incident and he tweeted his thanks to jurors for “standing up for my little girl.”
Andrews, who was on assignment for ESPN at the time of the incident, offered most of the gut-wrenching testimony as she testified to the futility of getting the video removed from the internet.
“I grabbed my laptop and flipped it open and like you know your body, and I saw it for two seconds and was like ‘oh my god,'” she said. “…I called my parents. I was just screaming, that I was naked all over the Internet. And I didn’t know what it was. … Probably for three months, everybody thought it was a publicity stunt. That ripped me apart.”
Her father, Steve, testified that, like many victims, his daughter has been changed by the incident.
“She’s terrified. She’s depressed,” he said. “She is not the girl that we used to know.”
Now, with the verdict, the 37-year-old Fox sportscaster and “Dancing with the Stars” host can work on finding peace and moving onward, like other victims. Still, the experience will never leave her and, judging by the impact of the trial, it had a similar effect on many women who travel, especially some high-profile TV sportscasters who shared frightening stories of questionable hotel security in interviews with SI.com’s Richard Deitsch. Several of them said they took pre-emptive steps, like declining maid service to eliminate access to their rooms.
“I don’t have a lot of say in where I stay or what hotel chains my company uses,” SNY’s Kerith Burke said. “I do remember feeling sad and scared after what happened to Erin. I travel with Band-Aids to put over the peepholes. I prefer to join a coworker at the hotel restaurant or bar so strangers don’t approach me as much. There’s a noticeable difference when I eat or drink alone. I don’t like hotel rooms on the first floor. I don’t like rooms by the elevators.”
Since the Andrews incident, they all said they are more aware and are proactive about their own security.
“Just after the Andrews incident, I was covering a game for ESPN in Oakland,” Michele Tafoya, who works for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and stressed that she feels secure now, said. “My hotel room had a balcony, and when I walked out onto it there were two men sitting there in a balcony adjoining mine with absolutely no separation between us. No railing, no nothing. We were sharing a balcony, which meant that they had 24/7 access to the glass doors of my room. Obviously those doors locked and had curtains, but that didn’t ease my mind at all. I checked out of the hotel. That was the one and only time I called my employer’s travel department to complain. I don’t share information about where I am staying.”
But the changes in their routines can’t compare to what Andrews still endures. The verdict won’t stop people from yelling that they’ve seen her nude as she does sideline work at NFL games for Fox, but she has to feel some measure of vindication, especially after being accused of making a career power move. Now, perhaps she can heal.
“One thing I’d like to address is the skepticism about why Erin would want to relive any of this when she said it wrecked her so much,” Burke said. “First of all, how someone processes their naked body on display without their consent is none of your business. Furthermore, healing is an incremental process. After feeling gutted and powerless, there is a power that returns when you get to share what happened to you, in your own words. She has described powerfully her anxiety, fear, and trust issues that resulted from this incident. It was also striking to see Erin’s testimony that she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else. If there’s a measure of comfort she can find by trying to prevent future violations, I hope she gets that comfort.”