Defamation vs. Unjust Enrichment

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Although Jesse Ventura’s lawsuit against Chris Kyle’s Estate was hyped as a “defamation” trial, $1.3 million of yesterday’s $1.8 million jury verdict was actually an award for “unjust enrichment.” So, what is unjust enrichment?

In Minnesota one is unjustly enriched if s/he knowingly received or obtained something of value for which s/he in equity and good conscience should pay. And, unlike in a defamation case where damages are based on harm to the plaintiff’s reputation and the plaintiff’s humiliation and embarrassment, damages in an unjust enrichment case are based on the defendant’s profit from his/her wrongful acts.

In the Ventura trial the jurors were instructed to not even consider the unjust enrichment claim unless they first determined that defamation had occurred. Because they found defamation, they were then told to consider: whether the Kyle Estate knowingly received a benefit from the defamatory story; and whether the Estate is not entitled to the benefit received because of circumstances that would make it unjust for it to retain that benefit without compensating Ventura. Because the jury found that unjust enrichment occurred, they were then instructed to award Ventura the amount of money by which they found the Estate had been unjustly enriched.

Defamation and unjust enrichment claims can also arise in any employment setting. For example, a supervisor’s false statement about a former employee could lead to a defamation claim. And, an employer’s failure to pay an employee for a benefit the employee provided to the employer could result in an unjust enrichment claim.

For more information about this article, please contact me at [email protected].

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney. Copyright 2014 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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