Ventura Defamation Lawsuit: What were the facts of this case?

Minneapolis litigator David Olsen of Henson & Efron explains the facts of the Jesse Ventura defamation lawsuit.

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Well, that’s a case that went to trial this summer, and the facts were pretty unique and apparently very interesting because it got widely reported. There was a man named Chris Kyle was a former navy SEAL. He wrote a book when he retired from the navy SEALs called “American Sniper”, and it was the story as written by him of the most lethal sniper in US military history. In the middle of that book there was about three or four pages where he wrote a story about an encounter that he supposedly had with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura at a bar frequented by navy SEALs out in Coronado, California. The bar that night was set up for a wake for a Medal of Honor winner, a former navy SEAL that Chris Kyle had severed with. Chris Kyle and a number of other navy SEALs were there. And as it turned out, Jesse Ventura and some of his friends also showed up that night not knowing there was going to be a wake because they were there for a reunion that weekend, a reunion of their own SEAL class.

Well, Kyle wrote that during the evening, Jesse Ventura had been making a number of insensitive and obnoxious statements talking about the war in Iraq, the US shouldn’t be there, and similar comments. And eventually, toward the end of the evening, Kyle wrote that Jesse Ventura supposedly said, “Navy SEALs deserve to lose a few.” In essence, that navy SEALs deserve to die because they shouldn’t have been in Iraq anyway. And as a former navy SEAL, obviously you can see the effect that might have on Jesse Ventura and his reputation. And Kyle wrote also, trying to make himself look more like a hero, although he was widely regarded as one anyway because of his X points in the war – to make himself look better he wrote that he punched Jesse Venture in the face and knocked him to the ground in retaliation for the comments.

So that was the story that was written, what we claim to be defamatory. We actually did file suit within weeks after the story came out because Chris Kyle refused to retract it or to admit that it wasn’t true. And one of the strangest twists, probably a year into the lawsuit as it was headed for a trial in the US District Court, Chris Kyle was murdered by another former serviceman when they were out together on a shooting range. The suit continued, though, against the estate of Chris Kyle because under the law, you’re allowed to clear your reputation, and the only way to do it is by suing the estate. So Jesse Ventura continued the suit. It ultimately went to trial. The widow of Chris Kyle represented the estate and sat at the table for the defense. And ultimately, a jury determined that the story was not true after a two-and-a-half-week trial with a parade of witnesses on both sides, and awarded Governor Ventura substantial damages.