MINNEAPOLIS, June 13 (UPI) -- An appellate court on Monday threw out a jury's decision to award former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura nearly $2 million from a defamation lawsuit stemming from the prominent memoir of Iraq war veteran Chris Kyle.
Ventura filed the suit in 2014 and accused Kyle, the author of "American Sniper," of defaming him in the book. The former politician and wrestler claimed in the suit that Kyle's description of a bar fight in California that involved Ventura a decade ago was inaccurate and soured his reputation among U.S. Navy SEALs and entertainment industry executives.
A jury agreed with Ventura and awarded him $1.3 million for "unjust enrichment" and another $500,000 for defamation. Monday, though, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the jury erred in its judgment.
In its ruling, the three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the "unjust enrichment" claim could not legally be applied to Ventura's case. By a 2-to-1 vote, it also tossed the half-million dollar award and remanded the case to a lower court for retrial, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Monday.
The main reason for the court's decision, it said, is because jurors were greatly influenced by defense claims at trial that any payout would be covered by the publisher's insurance policy -- not the Kyle family. The court argued that jurors, feeling more comfortable to give out a major cash award if an insurance policy's footing the bill, erroneously sided with Ventura.
"The one-line mention of insurance contained in the lengthy small-print contract merely acknowledges [the book's publisher] Harper Collins 'may carry' insurance," the court wrote. "The publishing contract does not establish HarperCollins actually purchased insurance."
Kyle was a U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooter in multiple tours of duty in Iraq before he returned to Texas and was killed by a fellow veteran in 2013. His memoir, subsequently adapted into a film of the same name, was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred actor Bradley Cooper as Kyle.
After the jury, who were split 8-2 in a rare occurrence, award, Kyle's widow, Tara, appealed the penalty. During the legal proceeding, several news organizations filed a brief in support of the Kyle family, believing the judgment infringed on freedom of speech and the press.
"We must conclude Ventura's counsel's closing remarks, in combination with the improper cross-examination of two witnesses about Kyle's insurance coverage, prevented Kyle from receiving a fair trial," the court said. "The district court clearly abused its discretion in denying a new trial ... We remand the defamation claim for a new trial."