This MAGA aficionado had his fifteen minutes of fame, or infamy, depending on your perspective, in 2019. Two of the resulting lawsuits have settled for undisclosed amounts.
During a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, viral video recorded a lily white and somewhat bemused Sandmann confronting Nathan Phillips, a Native American counter-protester. Multiple media outlets, including the Washington Post and MSNBC, quickly cast Sandmann as the villain and Phillips as the victim.
Upon further review, the roles were reversed. Nevertheless, according to one lawsuit, “NBCUniversal created panels on its talk shows to frame the January 18 incident as one involving a ‘hate crime’ and demonstrating ‘white supremacy’ as a result of ‘whites’ being ’emboldened’ by [former] President [Donald] Trump’s presence in the White House.” To support this narrative, producers and reporters used “a carefully selected few seconds” of “heavily edited videos that omitted the entire context of the incident,” again according to the NBCU lawsuit.
Sandmann sued these organizations, demanding an insane amount of money. His claims against the WaPo and NBC settled. About a half-dozen similar actions are still pending.
Reporters can say or print almost anything about public figures. Under current law, these individuals must prove actual malice. Generally, talking heads and writers have nothing personal against lightning-rod figures like Donald Trump or Joe Biden. These talking heads and writers just want viewers and clicks.
A different standard applies to private figures, like Nick Sandmann. Well, at least he was a private figure on January 18, 2019, when these events took place. In these cases, the plaintiff must only prove the published statements were untrue, or the person publishing (printing or saying) these statements showed reckless disregard for the truth.
MSNBC, the Washington Post, CNN, and their partners in crime certainly defamed Sandmann. But his damages are another matter.
Indeed, by the time he filed the lawsuit against NBCU in May 2019, most people had probably forgotten about the incident. His lawyers said he sustained “perpetual harm, emotional distress, and mental anguish,” but that’s a tenuous claim. Additionally, his demand for $200 million in punitive damages against NBC seemed vindictive.
Issues in the Nicholas Sandmann settlements are also common in workers’ compensation cases. Typically, there’s little or no dispute about liability in these matters. Damages are another kettle of fish. The Sandmann settlement had two components (compensatory and punitive damages). Workers’ comp settlements also have two components (medical bill payment and lost wage replacement).
Initial workers’ comp settlement offers almost never include a designated amount for future medical expenses. So, if these claims settle before a doctor issues an opinion about such costs, the victim is financially responsible for these charges. Like the Sandmann lawsuits, a fair workers’ comp settlement is impossible until all the facts are in.
Additionally, intentional lost wage replacement miscalculation is very common in these cases. Insurance company lawyers usually don’t account for lost overtime opportunities and other such income changes when they make settlement offers. So, unless the victim is willing to settle for less, resolving a workers’ comp case takes time.