Erin Andrews wins $55 million over peephole video

Privacy invasion leaves hotel carrying 49% of the blame.

Erin Andrews wins $55 million over peephole video

US sports reporter Erin Andrews had a ghastly experience in the summer of 2009.

A naked video of Erin Andrews, filmed furtively the year before through a hotel room peephole, was published online.

Andrews didn't know she had being filmed by stalker Michael David Barrett, and you can imagine how wretched she must have felt to discover that not only was a weirdo snooping on her, but that recordings he had taken were now being shared with the world.

The story of the Erin Andrews peephole video ignited the internet, only adding to the reporter's trauma. Imagine how horrible it must feel to have everyone hear your name and instantly think of *that* video.

Well, seven years later, another chapter in the Erin Andrews case has concluded, as BBC News reports:

US sports broadcaster Erin Andrews has been awarded $55 million (£39m) after she was secretly recorded nude in her hotel room by a stalker.
After a day of deliberations, a jury found the stalker 51% to blame, leaving two hotel companies to pay about $27m.

Andrews herself posted a message on Twitter:

I guess what surprises me is that the hotel where Erin Andrews was staying when she was filmed has found 49% responsible for what happened. Here's that BBC News report again:

"Barrett, a Chicago insurance company executive, admitted targeting Ms Andrews and said he did so to make money. He posted the footage online after celebrity gossip site TMZ refused to pay for it. Barrett pleaded guilty to stalking Andrews, altering hotel room peepholes and taking nude videos of her. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

It was then up to a jury to decide if the hotel owner, West End Hotel Partners, and former operator, Windsor Capital Group, should share in the blame.

During closing arguments, Ms Andrews' lawyers alleged that Barrett tried to take all of the blame in an attempt to deprive her of any money from the suit."

Now, I am not a lawyer, and I wasn't in the court to hear the evidence, so maybe someone can leave a comment explaining to me why just because Barrett might not be able to pay up, that the hotel Erin Andrews was staying in should be stung with such a heavy fine?

Yes, it was possible to meddle with a door's peephole to look the wrong way through it into Erin Andrews' hotel room, but I would imagine that that was true (and probably still is true) in many many other hotel rooms around the world.

Not to apportion any blame on Erin Andrews of course. She should have been able to feel confident that she was unobserved in the privacy of her hotel room. But it does seem a bit rough on the hotel...

Update: A little digging around has revealed Barrett's testimony of how he spied upon Erin Andrews, and the hotel agreed to his request to be placed in a hotel room next to her:

I needed to make a business trip to Nashville. It was just on the calendar, and so it was just a convenient time to be there.

When I checked in, it was morning, and the hotel was very busy, so they said, “The room you requested is not available.” I got something to eat . . . I went down to the restaurant. There’s a house phone in the restaurant, so I picked up the house phone and called the operator, asked, “Can I have Erin Andrews’ room?” They connected me. On the house phone it shows a room number, so I knew what room she was in.

I went to that floor, the 10th floor, I believe. I had noticed the maid was cleaning the room next to her room. That person was checking out.

So I went back to the front desk and told them, “That room is open. Can I check into that room?” They said, “Let’s check and see,” and went back. After a few minutes, they came back out, and they checked me into that room.

I went to my room. As I was coming to the room, I could actually hear her talking on the phone, so I knew it was the right room.

I dealt with some things in my room. I heard the door slam close next to me . . . saw it was her leaving her room.

I took [her door’s] peephole out, altered it, put it back in and left shortly after.

I used a hacksaw to cut off the threads, so it was basically a plug, and put it back in.

I went back to the room, and, unfortunately for both of us, I could hear that the shower was on in her room when I walked by. I waited until the shower went off. Then I pulled out the plug [on her door] and waited for the opportunity. I waited for a matter of 10 seconds. I waited for her to be visible.

Mind you, the hotel no doubt has massive liability insurance to cover claims like this - so in the end, it's Joe Public who ends up paying the fine through higher insurance premiums.

Back in 2009, while was working at Sophos, I made a YouTube video about a malware attack which was exploiting pervs' interest in watching the Erin Andrews' peephole video by posing as a video report about the incident from CNN.

That video I made about the malware has been watched by over 2.5 million people.

Although I'd like to think that those were 2.5 million people who wanted to learn about malware, I suspect something like 2.49 million of them were simply hoping they would see Erin Andrews without her underwear on.

The internet. It makes low-lives of us all.

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14 Responses

  1. Joe

    March 9, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    The reason for the judgement against the Hotel is their employees did not follow their own security policies and gave up the room # Ms Andrews occupying. Guest security is pretty much the number one rule for hotels

  2. coyote

    March 10, 2016 at 1:11 am #

    I saw this yesterday and I too thought it unfair that the hotel was charged. By using the logic of they could have done more we'd all be guilty of so many things, things we might not even know anything about. You have the so-called justice system but then you have examples like this where it clearly is exactly the opposite: this isn't justice.

    Basically this is criminalising the inability of complete foresight and even being imperfect (which we all are). That's screwy and it implicates everyone. Maybe I'm missing something too but the reality is there is always things people could do differently (better or worse) and there are always things undone that could be done. Why not instead make the pervert work until he can afford to pay out the compensation? Unfair? Well think of Erin and then talk about 'unfair'.

  3. Dereck

    March 10, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    I think Joe's response hit it on the head. The Hotel has to ensure a Customer's privacy and security. That's why they have locks on doors. But how did this guy go messing with a door viewer without being detected, no CCTV in the corridors? Personal safety in a hotel is paramount and so the corridors and public areas should have CCTV. How many movies have we seen where an attacker has followed someone to their room and bundled their victim through the door to cause some harm? Loads. Hasn't the hotel industry managed their risks or have they simply transferred them through insurance? It's not all about financial damage though, risk also has to include the intangible impacts.

    I think Graham's comment is interesting about the YouTube video. The crux of it Graham is simple, Erin Andrews is an attractive female and most men (being human) love to see the female form as nature intended. The difference between most men and Barrett however, is that we wouldn't dream of deliberately invading someone's privacy by taking measures to enable that to happen. We would probably just take a glimpse (if it was obviously available) and walk away with a slightly pink face.

    • coyote in reply to Dereck.

      March 10, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

      'We would probably just take a glimpse (if it was obviously available) and walk away with a slightly pink face.'

      I wouldn't. Invasion of privacy is invasion of privacy and to not honour that is disrespectful to the extreme. You could say that spammers are only taking a glimpse of your email address(es) and from then on it's only in a database. That's exactly what they do; are you okay with that ? Actually: they really don't look at it at all so you could say it's more noble than just taking a glimpse. But is that really valid?

      As for your other remarks: no matter what the hotel did they could be blamed with additional things with this logic and that is the problem here.

  4. JungleMartin

    March 10, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    Rhetorical question: Did her lawyers go after the hotel group because (a) they were reckless, or (b) they had very deep pockets? I don't think anything more need be said.

  5. Chris H

    March 10, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

    I suggest both reasons but the hotel did have a 'Duty of Care' A Tort law 1st established in Donoghue_v_Stevenson Glasgow, Scotland otherwise referred to as 'The Snail in a Bottle' a pop bottle supplied by Barrs the present day makers of Irn Bru

    • JungleMartin in reply to Chris H.

      March 10, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

      Agreed they had a duty of care. But almost completely equally responsible as the man who self-admittedly perpetrated the act? As he admitted using a hacksaw, this was surely premeditated. I agree there were things the hotel could have done better (e.g. not having room numbers show up on the phone in the restaurant). Barrett was the main one responsible here, by a long way. He acted premeditatively, deliberately, deceptively and covertly. The hotel did not 'give out' her room number (but admittedly they did not spot a security issue with the restaurant phone which allowed it to be discovered). They did not grant his request to be placed next to her room. (They granted his request to be placed in room number ### which he had said he had just seen vacated.) If I had to assess that they were partly responsible, I would apportion no more than 10% or 20% on their part.

    • coyote in reply to Chris H.

      March 10, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

      I thought this was in the US so what does Scotland have to do with it ? That is to say, what do the courts of Scotland have to do with the courts of the US ? Or am I misunderstanding your point (I admittedly didn't look any of that up) ?

      • Chris H in reply to coyote.

        March 11, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

        This may explain it:
        Ancient international principle of COMITY—which, like the biblical Golden Rule, posits that even sovereign states should extend courtesies and privileges to each other—explains why one country would give effect to the law of another. A formal requirement of reciprocity could actually limit the extent of these courtesies and privileges to those that the other state is willing to extend.
        Its quite common for one country to consider another countries findings if the cases are similar and if they both share a common law such as Australia, Canada and the USA + many others. Most of whom have derived their laws from English Law

        Comity offers another reference point for Judges to consider in the matter they are dealing with

        • coyote in reply to Chris H.

          March 12, 2016 at 1:22 am #

          Right.

          But for example the agreement (with respect to extradition) between the UK and the USA is really rather ridiculous, last I knew, where the US expects a great deal more than the UK does. Another example, and this is one that amuses me greatly: Americans seem to think that in e.g. Australia they at some point had a right to bear arms and those in favour of guns especially love to talk about the supposed mandatory buy-out in Australia (and it supposedly adversely affecting those who obey the law) when in fact it isn't even a constitutional right for Australians (they've never had the right) to have firearms (not only do I know this from my own readings of history but my closest friend being Australian). Or to put it another way: the United States of America has no problem doing things its own way and most certainly has no problem with telling other nations how they should do the same things, too (even if it's different than the way America does it or if it's something America does but other nations shouldn't do). This goes for following international norms too.

          In any case, a court case in Scotland doesn't set a legal precedence for the US. Whether there are similar laws or not is in my mind irrelevant because of course it's going to happen but it's going to be dealt with the way said country deals with its laws.

          • John Scott in reply to coyote.

            March 18, 2016 at 3:28 pm #

            Forgive me coyote but are you a lawyer?
            In the meantime I've explained in some detail how the Common Law precedent of one country can and does often effect the thinking of another Countries Judiciary particularly where there might be no precedent for the matter being dealt with.

            As for the extradition agreement THAT was a contract negotiated by Blair and his mate G.W.Bush. The 1st to fall victim of this badly written (by Blairs lot) and executed agreement was the 'Nat West Three' However those at risk of being executed because of their capital crime (such as murder) cannot be extradited to a country that still administers the death penalty, unless that country guarantees our government that there will be no death sentence passed on the extradited. This was the case with the Muslim Cleric sent to Jordan to face sentencing. They can't chop his head off.

        • John Scott in reply to Chris H.

          March 18, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

          Well Chris my VERY good friend is an Australian Barrister now working in Greys Inn London. If you've heard the term McKenzie's Friend in the context of a court hearing this refers to another Australian who whilst qualified in his own country but not here wanted to act for a client/friend. After his verbal plea the court granted his request to be heard hence the term (Mr) McKenzies Friend

  6. Max Pierson

    March 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    So this woman has a perennial stalker. Does she have the responsibility to alert the hotel to same?

  7. CheyenneJack

    March 10, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Perhaps peepholes should be replaced by hallway cameras and LCDs in rooms. Sounds expensive but $55M isn't cheap. Peepholes also make it very easy to break into rooms that have latch doors. Simply tie a coat hanger to the string, pop the peephole, push it through, dangle, swing, catch latch and pull.

    It's probably not too long until kids are like "Daddy whats a peephole?" as they vanish into history, only to be seen in movies where the poor sucker gets his eye shot out with a gun… another bonus to LCD screen with hall cameras.

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