Avril Nolan was awarded $125,000 after her photograph was used in an ad campaign for HIV/AIDS which stated, “I am positive (+).” The Brooklyn model had no knowledge of the ad campaign nor did she consent to the photo being used for this purpose, per New York Post.
Nolan first found out from a friend’s Facebook post about her unwittingly becoming the face for HIV. She said that she was “sick to the bottom of her stomach” when it hit with the news. The PR rep, who is in her 20s, was paranoid that her acquaintances, family, friends, and even future boyfriends might see the campaign ad.
NBC News reported that she received a copy of the ad from the newspaper AM New York in 2013. The New York State Division of Human Rights ran a quarter page ad which featured a large photo of Nolan. The words “I am positive” and “I have rights” were emblazoned across the pic.
Avril Nolan is not HIV positive, although she does have rights and pursued legal action and damages to the tune of $1 million.
The photos dated back to 2011, when Nolan posed for a “street-style” piece about her musical interests. The photographer then sold the photo to a photo agency. In turn, the photo agency licensed the pic for the Division of Human Rights ad.
(Model awarded $125G after she unknowingly became face of HIV)
— geopost 24/7 (@gooshi2000) December 12, 2018
Upon seeing her face in the HIV ad campaign, she reached out to the photographer who tried to get the state agency to remove the photo. DHR’s initial response was, “We need to hear directly from the model via email that she will not hold DHR liable for any usage of her image in this campaign.”
She testified that as a result of the ad campaign, a co-worker approached her and gave her a hug. The colleague then asked her, “Oh, will I catch something?” Another colleague thought it fit to send her a “Happy World AIDS Day” email.
Judge Thomas Scuccimarra had previously ruled that Nolan had been defamed. When the presiding officer awarded damages he found that although Nolan had indeed “suffered emotional distress and humiliation during the immediate aftermath of the publication and for some time thereafter; however, there is no basis for an award of future damages.”
The judge supported his finding by stating that Nolan had a thriving vintage clothing business and was not currently in counseling. He added that a $1.5 million award for defamation would be more suitable in a case where a complainant is falsely accused of being a drug-dealing, alcoholic prostitute.
Scuccimarra found that $125,000 would be “reasonable compensation.”