Swiss food giant Nestlé has been told to pay $15.6 million to a man whose image was used without his permission for many years on coffee jar labels.
Nestlé said on Tuesday that it plans to appeal the decision - worth SFr18.6 million - which was made by a court in Glendale in California.
Russell Christoff, a former model, came across his likeness on jars of Taster’s Choice coffee while out shopping in 2002.
He had originally posed in a two-hour Nestlé photo shoot in 1986, but thought that nothing had come of it.
A legal dispute with Nestlé USA followed, during which 58-year-old Christoff turned down the company’s $100,000 settlement offer and Nestlé USA declined his offer to settle for $8.5 million.
Last week a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ordered Nestlé USA to pay Christoff $15.6 million for using the image without his permission and profiting from it, said Nestlé on Tuesday.
The sum includes five per cent of the company’s profit from Taster’s Choice sales from 1997 to 2003.
During that time, Nestlé sold the freeze-dried coffee with labels using Christoff’s likeness in the US, as well in Japan, South Korea, Israel, Mexico and Kuwait. The company’s Canadian branch started to use the image in 1986.
At Nestlé’s headquarters in Vevey, spokesman François-Xavier Perroud said the award to Christoff was “absurdly high”.
Nestlé USA lawyer Lawrence Heller has already said that the company would appeal the verdict.
“The employee that pulled the photo thought they had consent to use the picture,” said Heller.
Christoff’s legal team said that the former model hadn’t expected such a large payout.
Christoff is now working as a kindergarten teacher after a career that included working as a model, acting in corporate training videos, as well as hosting his own television programme.
The former model says there’s a good reason why he didn’t spot his image on the jars of instant coffee sooner.
“I don’t buy Taster’s Choice,” he said. “I do beans.”
swissinfo with agencies
The former model refused Nestlé's first offer of $100,000.
Then Nestlé rejected Christoff's proposal of $8.5 million.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury has now ordered Nestlé USA to pay $15.6 million in compensation.
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