Photographer wins $1 million in lawsuit after reputation trashed over $125

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Why it matters to you

Maliciously inciting a viral response over a small amount of money can have serious financial consequences.

At the end of a long legal process, professional wedding photographer Andrea Polito has been awarded a $1.08 million verdict after Dallas couple Andrew and Neely Moldovan were found liable for defamation, disparagement, and civil conspiracy.

The story began during October 2014 when Polito was hired to photograph the Moldovan’s wedding. Weeks later, the couple started requesting high-resolution copies of the photos. However, the couple had not completed an order form to choose their wedding album cover or paid a $125 fee for the cost of the photo album’s cover; both details outlined in the contract signed by the couple.

In addition to refusing to pay the previously agreed upon fee, the couple contacted a local news station, NBC affiliate KXAS, in order to present their side of the story. The piece depicted Polito as holding the photos “hostage” from the newly married couple. They claimed the fee shouldn’t apply, despite evidence to the contrary.

Using Instagram, the couple posted phrases like “Excited to be on NBC” and “justice is served” after the piece aired. Viewers that sympathized with the couple went onto social media in order to leave negative online reviews of Polito’s photography business.

Detailed by Polito’s attorney Dave Wishnew, that social media response “instantly burned down the reputation that Andrea built up over 12 years. She didn’t book any more weddings after that. It was done. The negative reviews destroyed her reputation, and in a business that is largely word-of-mouth, no one was referring her.”

During the trial, Polito presented evidence that she attempted to make the couple happy, reaching out over email multiple times. Unfortunately, the couple appeared to ignore that outreach and used their newfound viral fame to promote Neely Moldovan’s beauty blog, likely a move to increase web traffic and attract lucrative sponsored posts.

In addition, evidence about the couple’s malicious intentions was presented at trial. In one message, Neely Moldovan wrote “We are hoping that our story makes the news and completely ruins her business.”

At the end of the trial, a Dallas County jury agreed with Polito and awarded her a seven figure verdict. Speaking about the outcome of the trial, Polito said “When the jury came out and said that, it felt like I got ‘me’ back, and that’s all I ever wanted. I just wanted my name back, for me.”

The Moldovans also released a statement. It reads “We are stunned. We did what consumer advocates say to do: When you are wronged, you fight back. We were unhappy with a situation, so we complained like anyone would. This court decision tells consumers not to speak up for fear of fat legal bills and painful judgments.”

In a twist of irony, the Moldovans are now facing a social media backlash of their own making. Neely’s Twitter and Instagram account have both been switched into private mode and Twitter users are contacting her blog sponsors to urge halting all further paid relationships.

That appears to have worked with at least one sponsor, Martinelli’s. That company released a statement which reads “We have learned of a legal matter involving one of our sponsored bloggers, Nelly Moldovan, and have terminated any collaboration with her.”