TAMPA, Fla. — Country singer Luke Combs is making amends to a disabled Florida woman who sells tumblers online after she was ordered to pay him $250,000 when she got snared in a crackdown his lawyers launched against companies that sell unauthorized merchandise with his image or name on it.
Combs in an Instagram video posted Wednesday said he told his attorneys to remove Nicol Harness from a lawsuit they filed in an Illinois federal court and that he was sending her $11,000. She had sold on Amazon 18 tumblers she had made with his name and likeness for $20 each, grossing $360.
The singer, who recently topped the country charts with his remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” also said he would start selling his own tumbler with the proceeds going to pay Harness’ medical bills — she has heart disease and was recently hospitalized. He also said he would fly Harness and her family to an upcoming concert so he could meet her.
He said his lawyers were only supposed to go after big companies that sell unauthorized goods, not fans who have a little business on the side. Most of the 45 other sellers sued appear to be large operations in Asia, court filings show. Under U.S. copyright law, sellers of unauthorized goods can be hit with stiff penalties and have their assets seized. They can also face criminal charges.
“This is not something that I would ever do. This is not the kind of person I am. I’m not greedy in any way, shape or form. Money is the last thing on my mind. I promise you guys that,” said Combs, a two-time Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year and three-time Grammy nominee.
Harness’ plight came to light on Tuesday in a story by Tampa TV station WFLA that went viral.
Harness told the station that Combs’ lawyers served her the lawsuit by email instead of in person, something the Northern District of Illinois federal court allows. She said the October lawsuit went to her junk mail folder and she never saw it.
When Harness didn’t respond as required within 30 days, the judge found her in default and imposed the $250,000 judgment. She discovered she had been sued when Amazon, obeying the judge’s order, froze the $5,500 she had in her account for possible seizure, meaning she couldn’t pay her bills.
She’s a big fan of the singer and had started selling the Combs tumbler after attending one of his concerts.
“It’s very stressful,” a weeping Harness told the station. “I didn’t mean any harm to Luke Combs. I quit selling the tumbler. I pulled it down. I just don’t understand. … This is not something I meant to go wrong like this. I just want to get back to my day-to-day life.”
Combs, in his Instagram video, said he learned of Harness and the lawsuit when he awoke at 5 a.m. Wednesday to go to the bathroom and saw the story. He said he had his manager get Harness’ contact information so he could call her and tell her he would make things right.
“I was so apologetic in talking with her. It just makes me sick, honestly, that this would happen, especially at the holidays. I can’t imagine being in her shoes,” Combs said.
A relieved Harness told the TV station Wednesday she was surprised when Combs called.
“He was a very nice guy, very understanding,” Harness said. “I explained to him what happened, he understood. I still can’t believe he called me and he is doing these things for me.”