DALLAS (CN) — A Dallas County jury awarded a wedding photographer more $1 million in damages against a disgruntled married couple who defamed her in a malicious campaign on social media that ruined her business.
In a 10-2 verdict, the jury found on Friday that Neely and Andrew Moldovan of Dallas knowingly published false statements about Andrea Polito that disparaged her business. The jury awarded $880,000 in damages for injury to Polito’s reputation, mental anguish and lost profits, and $200,000 in punitive damages for making false statements to harm Polito with malice.
Polito sued the Moldovans in 2015 after shooting their wedding the previous year.
Polito’s attorney Dave Wishnew, with Gruber Elrod in Dallas, said Monday that the dispute focused on the defendants’ objection to the contract stating they must pick a $125 photo album cover before Polito could turn over photographs taken of the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony.
“In a 2014 TV interview, the couple charged that Ms. Polito was ‘holding their pictures hostage,” Wishnew said in a statement. “The Moldovans’ allegations went viral, damaging Ms. Polito’s then-thriving business. Ms. Moldovan, who maintains a lifestyle and beauty blog, said in one Facebook conversation that she was ‘pretty sure [Polito’s] business is done.”
Polito said she hopes the verdict will send the message that “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences,” the attorney said.
Polito said in the complaint that when she was informed of the defendants’ demands, she wanted to keep her clients happy and asked for an album cover to be selected with the intent of waiving the cost.
“In fact, the Moldovans were already meeting with NBC 5 and [reporter Scott] Gordon by the time Polito sent her January 14  email, dead set in their pursuit of publicity and public shaming,” the complaint states.
“The Moldovans proceeded to republish the story on different electronic forums, such as blogs, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, NBC, text messages, and emails, and to make disparaging and defamatory statements in those same forums with the direct intent to harm plaintiffs.”
Polito said in the complaint that the Moldovans disparaged her by saying she “cheated,” “scammed,” and “blatantly stole money while holding pictures ransom and then adding on extra fees that weren’t in [the] original contract.”