$100,000 Settlement Reached After Seizure-Inducing Tweet Sent to Journalist
A unique personal injury case involving a flashing strobe-light image sent through Twitter that resulted in an epilepsy patient having a seizure has come to a conclusion. John Rivello, a Marine veteran and resident of Maryland, agreed to pay $100,000 to Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times investigative journalist who initially filed a civil lawsuit in April 2017 after charges of cyberstalking were issued by Texas federal prosecutors. The government indicated Rivello sent the animated strobe image to Eichenwald with an attached statement reading, “You deserve a seizure for your post.”
The agreement ends the personal injury claim, according to documents filed in Maryland federal court.
U.S. District Judge, James K. Bredar, issued a final judgment in favor of Eichenwald and against John Rivello. The suit accused Rivello of purposely sending an animated strobe GIF image via Twitter that caused Eichenwald to suffer a severe seizure in December 2016. Judge Bredar had previously determined that light waves emitted from the GIF image constituted physical contact, as they were directed towards Eichenwald and related to his seizure, and therefore required battery charges. The judgment pertained to claims of battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress within the suit.
Eichenwald, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, was a vocal critical of Donald Trump during his 2016 candidacy. Following the presidential election, Eichenwald reportedly appeared with Tucker Carlson for a contentious nine-minute Fox News interview that concluded with Carlson stating he would have “real concerns” if he were Eichenwald’s editor. “I am not calling anyone a liar, but I am saying I’m concerned about your behavior on this show tonight,” Carlson said.
Shortly after Eichenwald’s appearance, the strobe-light image was sent from Rivello via a Twitter message. Eichenwald said the image caused him to suffer an eight-minute epileptic seizure. “This individual did something clearly knowing his actions could injure me, and he succeeded,” Eichenwald told Newsweek in 2016.
Additionally, Rivello was charged in Dallas County District Court with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The charge included a hate crime enhancement based on the alleged targeting of Eichenwald, who is Jewish. The seizure-inducing tweet was sent from the username ‘@jew_goldstein.’
Police eventually traced the Twitter username to Rivello’s iCloud account, which contained an image of his Maryland driver’s license. The iCloud account also reportedly included a screenshot of Eichenwald’s Wikipedia biography and a list of triggers for epileptic seizures.
The hate-crime enhancement was added by prosecutors due to Rivello’s bias against “persons of Jewish faith or descent,” according to the Dallas County indictment.
Eichenwald’s attorney, Steven Lieberman, confirmed via a statement to Law360.com that the case is the first to successfully assert a civil damages claim based on a seizure-inducing tweet.
“This is analogous to sending somebody poison in the mail,” he said. “My client wants to make sure people understand the consequences of these kinds of attacks. People should know that they can be prosecuted criminally and suffer civil liability as well. He had two motivations: to protect people with epilepsy and hold accountable those who attack journalists for merely doing their jobs.”
Lieberman also stated “the other side gave up” ahead of scheduled depositions.
“We had been pursuing this case with great vigor,” he said. “Faced with testifying under oath, the defendants offered judgment on all the counts and payment of $100,000.”
Additionally, Law360.com reported that although the federal criminal case against Rivello has been dropped, Lieberman confirmed the state criminal case was set to go to trial earlier this year but was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Texas state prosecutors told Lieberman “it was their understanding” that Rivello intends to plead guilty to the charges, the attorney said.