Stalking is a close cousin to sexual assault.  Sure there is no physical interaction, but most of the mental damage is the same.  Erin Anderson is a news reporter who recently won a $55M verdict against her stalker and Marriott corporation.  While I’m happy she had a successful day in court, it sets a ridiculous president, and at the end of the day, she really doesn’t get that much.

55 Million Dollars

This is a crazy number for this type of settlement.  Maybe it’s the high profile nature of the case, or maybe it’s because one of the plaintiffs has very deep pockets, but this is not a number anyone in the real world will ever see.  Real world settlements for things even worse than this generally are missing two to three zeros from anything close to this.  If you think a civil case will make you whole again, you are probably going to be disappointed.  Even if you do get a large settlement, it will quickly evaporate through the realities of the situation.

Show me the money?

Unless you are suing a multinational corporation or a multimillionaire, you might not get anywhere close to the award amount.  It doesn’t due you much good to sue a broke person who’s in prison.  And if you are suing someone who could potentially pay you but would lose most of their assets in the process, they will probably file for bankruptcy.  Then it’s game over.

Appeals

If the person/company is not likely to go belly up, they are probably going to appeal the award.  In the case of the Erin Anderson award, it will likely be cut by 1/3 or more.  So when you write off the $28 Million for the actual offender, take a third off the remaining $27 Million and if she is lucky it might end up at $20M.

Lawyers

Everyone has to be paid from your settlement.  If you received victim support through the Victim of Crime’s Act (VOCA), that money needs to be repaid.  Then your typical contingency lawyer is going to take between 30-40% of the award.   So now you are down to about $10-12M.  But wait there is more.

Taxes

Since this lawsuit only dealt with emotional distress and not physical harm, the award is taxable.  This is how a $55M award becomes a $5.5M award.

Final Tally

When all is said and done, you have several absurdities.  The perpetrator ended up paying nothing.  The victim received comparatively little of the actual award.  The lawyers ended up making the bulk of the money received.  The entity who ends up paying was the owner of the location where things took place.  Not exactly an example of enforcing accountability, or preventing this from happening to someone else.  Clearly there was some mistakes made by Marriott, but they were manipulated by someone who misrepresented their reasons for being there.  It’s difficult to protect against people doing things other than we expect them to do.

At the end of the day I hope Erin gets some peace of mind from the settlement, whatever the final tally.  For Marriott, a few million dollars is probably not going to make a difference.  Still it would be nice if the person responsible were the one made to pay, and not the party with the deepest pockets.