Courtesy of NBC Sports
ESPN reporter Erin Andrews filed a lawsuit Thursday against Ohio State doing business as the Blackwell Inn for negligence, emotional distress and invasion of privacy as part of a larger suit against two additional hotels and the man that published nude footage of the television reporter last year.
“The university disagrees with Ms. Andrews’ claims and we will defend the claims through the court process,” said Jim Lynch, director of Media Relations for OSU, in an e-mail.
Andrews is seeking $1.2 million for the emotional stress and lack of earning capacity caused by a video of Andrews nude in her hotel room that raced across the web in February 2008.
After the footage was released, ESPN’s lead counsel pursued the case until Michael David Barrett plead guilty in a court in Los Angeles to interstate stalking last December.
Although he has not received a copy of the claim as of Sunday morning, Barrett’s attorney Richard Beuke said he and his client were not surprised by the lawsuit.
Barrett admitted to following Andrews to three cities and altering the peepholes in two hotels — the Blackwell and a Marriott hotel in Nashville, Tenn. — in order to tape Andrews. In March, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for stalking.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., Barrett called the Blackwell in January 2008 to find out where Andrews would be staying during her trip to OSU on Feb. 4.
After being told by Blackwell officials that Andrews would be staying there, Barrett requested a room next to hers, which was “accommodated without the knowledge or consent of [Andrews],” according to the suit.
To support her case, Andrews and her attorneys will have to prove a breach of her privacy.
“Against the hotels, basically, she is going to have to show that they had a duty to her that was breached,” said Christopher Robinette, associate professor at the Widener University School of Law in Pennsylvania. “And if [the facts in the lawsuit] are true, that’s likely.”
The lawsuit goes on to detail how Barrett altered the peephole device in Andrews’ door and surreptitiously filmed her through the peephole while she changed her clothing. The video was then sent to e-mail accounts controlled by Barrett and distributed through the Internet, the suit claims.
“What she is going to have to prove against him, which I believe is easier, is some kind of electronic intrusion upon her private space,” Robinette said. “Usually the key here is whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy or not. It’s not going to be hard to prove that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a hotel room.”
Events similar to these also occurred at the Nashville Marriot in September 2008.
The lawsuit claims negligence against OSU, in that its employees disregarded Andrews’ well being when they released information regarding her whereabouts to Barrett and intentionally placed him in the room next to her. They are also claiming negligence in that OSU failed to discover that Barrett had altered the peephole.
Calls to Marriott International Inc. and Andrews’ legal council, Power Roger and Smith P.C., went unanswered.
“The lawsuit has, in my opinion, merit. While criminal acts often cut off proximate causation, there are exceptions when the conduct is foreseeable — as here with a celebrity,” wrote Professor Jonathan Turley, of George Washington University School of Law, on his blog,jonathanturley.org. “This could result in a significant new precedent for hotels.”
Andrews said in a written statement given to the Associated Press that, “Although I’ll never be able to fully erase the impact that this invasion of privacy has had upon me and my family, I do hope that my experience will cause the hospitality industry to be more vigilant in protecting its guests from the time they reserve a hotel room until they check out.”