The Washington Post, among many other outlets, reported that former wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura won his lawsuit against Chris Kyle, the American Sniper whose life and book was immortalized by Hollywood. (Mr. Ventura started his lawsuit before Kyle’s death, and later maintained it against his estate.)
The Post reports that the more than $1.8 million in damages include “only” half a million for defamation per se; the rest of the award is for Unjust Enrichment. Those kinds of damages are more typical in situations where one party does work for another and the other benefits but does not pay. If there is no contract between them, the one doing the work may argue that the benefitted party was unjustly enriched by the value of the work done, and claim their share as damages in court.
Ventura’s reasoning in this very different case is that Kyle’s defaming story helped sell his book, so the defamation unjustly enriched him, and he (Ventura) should get a cut. But damages for unjust enrichment are a rare thing in a defamation action. Indeed, the estate’s lawyers tried to have that claim thrown out earlier, unsuccessfully.
True, some plaintiffs’ attorneys have a time-honored practice of throwing spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks, filing numerous counts in one complaint. So cases pleading both defamation and unjust enrichment have happened before. But few (if any) were the times when damages for one were added to damages for the other, increasing the award altogether. That aspect of the case is sure to figure prominently on appeal.