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Nancy Toffoloni-Benoit's family wins judgment over Hustler Magazine

In an item that flew below the radar of wrestling sites until posted about it a few hours ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Courthouse News Service reported that a jury in Georgia awarded $19.2 million in damages to the family of the late Nancy Toffoloni-Benoit this past Friday in their civil suit against Larry Flynt Publishing's Hustler Magazine.  Judge Thomas W. Thrash lowered the award to $375,000 due to the state's $250,000 limit on punitive damages, but Toffoloni family attorney Richard Decker will appeal based on an exception that allows a jury to go over the limit if it is proven that the defendant "acted...with intent to harm."

In its March 2008 issue, Hustler had published stills from a video of a nude photoshoot in 1983 that a 20 year old Nancy participated before entering the wrestling business.  Florida radio D.J. Mark Semansky, who shot the video at his home, had no release from Nancy and told Hustler this when he first contacted them by email a few weeks after she was murdered. Larry Flynt Publishing paid him $1,000 U.S. (Yes, really.) for select still shots to publish.  After the photo feature in Hustler was announced, Nancy's family quickly initiated legal action.

A restraining order to pull the magazine from stores failed.  In October of that year, a federal judge ruled in Hustler's favor, stating that Nancy's death was "a legitimate matter of public interest and concern."  Her family won on appeal in June 2009, with the 11th Circuit ruling that the photos were not sufficiently newsworthy because the photos were not related to the "incident of public concern," her death at the hands of her husband, then WWE wrestler Chris Benoit.  In the end, the court ruled that Hustler must pay damages to the Toffoloni family for publishing the photos without permission or payment to the estate.

Decker commented to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that "No reasonable juror could conclude that [Larry Flynt Publishing] did not publish the photographs and the article for financial gain. The evidence shows that LFP made significant profits off the March 2008 issue and that the reaction to the Benoit photographs was ‘huge and overwhelmingly positive.'"  As far as the jury's damages award goes, he added that "I really didn't expect it to be that much," and that it spoke to (in the words of the article's author) "the jury's disgust with Hustler."

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