ATLANTA (CN) – Hustler Magazine will pay a $375,000 penalty for publishing nude photographs of Nancy Benoit after she was murdered by her professional wrestler husband, who then committed suicide, a federal judge ruled.
Authorities discovered the bodies of Nancy Benoit, her 7-year-old son and her husband, Chris, at their Fayetteville, Ga., home in June 2007. Investigators quickly concluded that Chris, a wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment, strangled his wife and son, placed a Bible next to their bodies, and then hanged himself.
In the wake of the grisly discovery, Larry Flynt Publishing Group bought 20-year-old nude photos of Nancy, who was a former model and professional wrestler, and published them in the March 2008 issue of Hustler.
Nancy’s family filed suit, claiming that Hustler exploited Nancy’s tragic death for financial gain by publishing the images, which were taken when she was 20 years old.
In October 2008, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim, concluding that Nancy Benoit’s death was “a legitimate matter of public interest and concern.”
Benoit’s family appealed the decision and won.
The 11th Circuit ruled in June 2009 that the nude photographs did not fall within the newsworthiness exception to Georgia’s right-of-publicity law, since the published photographs were in no way related to the “incident of public concern,” Benoit’s death.
The court ruled that Hustler was financially responsible to Benoit’s family for publishing Benoit’s photos without her permission and without compensating her estate.
A jury on Friday awarded $19.6 million in punitive damages to Benoit’s family, finding that Hustler had acted with intent to harm the plaintiffs.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash overturned the jury’s verdict the same afternoon. The court ruled that the award could not exceed Georgia’s $250,000 cap on punitive damages. Instead, he ordered the magazine to pay $375,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Richard Decker, the attorney representing Benoit’s family, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that he will appeal the judge’s decision.