- A jury ordered Alex Jones to pay a total of over $49 million for defaming Sandy Hook parents.
- That included $45.2 million in punitive damages, which Texas law caps at $750,000.
- Legal experts said even if the damages are reduced, the jury’s decision still sends a message.
A jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay more than $45 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim as punishment for the lies he told about the shooting that killed their son — but it’s likely that amount will be reduced.
The parents, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, sued Jones and his media company for defamation over his claims that the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a “hoax.” Their 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was among the 26 people killed. Jones repeatedly spread falsehoods about the shooting but acknowledged in court this week that it was real.
The jury on Thursday awarded the parents $4.1 million in compensatory damages, which are meant to compensate the injured party for their losses. It was significantly less than the $150 million their lawyers sought. The next day, the jury returned a much heftier ruling for punitive damages, ordering Jones to pay $45.2 million. Punitive damages, as the name suggests, are intended to punish the wrongdoer.
However, the law in Texas, where Jones and his company are based, sets a limit on how high punitive damages can be, meaning the amount he could ultimately be ordered to pay may be a lot lower.
“Texas has a cap of $750,000 on punitive damages for emotional distress, so the $45.2 million award will likely be reduced,” Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said.
Under the $750,000 cap, Jones could be ordered to pay that amount to each plaintiff, totaling $1.5 million — just over 3% of what the jury determined was the proper punishment for his lies.
When Jones’ lawyer brought up the cap in court after the jury’s decision was read, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble acknowledged it and said “we do have laws in Texas where we claim to trust our juries and then we don’t trust our juries.”
Gamble did not take immediate steps to address the discrepancy, but Jones’ lawyer said he would file a motion to reduce the damages, at which point the judge may reduce the judgment.
Jones’ lawyer also told reporters outside the courthouse that he thought the verdict was too high and that due to the cap he believed the punitive damages would ultimately amount to $1.5 million.
Mark Bankston, an attorney for the parents, told Bloomberg Law he would push back against the court if it moves to reduce the punitive damages.
“We do not believe punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied to our case and will certainly litigate that issue if necessary,” he said.
Damages caps are relatively common in the US, though they vary widely by state.
Joshua Ritter, a criminal attorney based in Los Angeles, told Insider that even though the damages will likely be reduced, the jury’s decision sends a message that “the Sandy Hook shooting was a tragedy and that media personalities can’t exploit that tragedy to gain more viewers or boost their own popularity.”
“To do so is not only unseemly and disgusting, it’s also illegal,” he said, adding that another defamation case against Jones is coming up soon in Connecticut, where the laws are more likely to favor the parents than in Texas.
Ritter said he thinks most defendants getting this verdict would rush to settle the Connecticut case, rather than risk another jury returning a similarly large order of damages. But he noted Jones “doesn’t operate under the same set of rules as anyone else.”
The trial this week marked the first time Jones was ordered to pay damages related to his Sandy Hook claims. He’s awaiting additional trials that will determine how much he needs to pay other Sandy Hook families who brought lawsuits. He also recently filed bankruptcy on behalf of his media company, a move the Sandy Hook families and legal experts said appears to be an attempt to avoid the payouts.
Defamation lawsuits could just be the beginning of Jones’ legal troubles, as legal experts told Insider Jones could face perjury charges after revelations in court this week suggested he may have lied under oath.