Archive for January, 2011

Reality for Dr. Phil

January 27, 2011

Dieu v. Phil McGraw (California)
(Participants recruited to participate in a Dr. Phil reality show sue for negligence and intentional tort claims; waiver and release agreements signed by the participants do not preclude liability for the claims beyond negligence.)

After posting comments on Dr. Phil’s website about their distrust for men, the plaintiffs were recruited by producers to participate in a reality-based television show where they would live in a house and receive therapy from Dr. Phil.  Prior to their participation in the show, the plaintiffs signed several copies of “Dr. Phil Program Appearance Release” forms, all of which were substantially the same (the “Releases”).  In addition to describing the nature of the show (including “heated discussions, commentary and remarks”), the Releases also provided that the plaintiffs agreed not to sue the defendants for failure to disclose the subject matter of the show or the identity of guests, or as a result of dislike of the questioning or outcome from the program.  Additionally, the Releases asserted that the plaintiffs would be not receive therapy from Dr. Phil (contrary to alleged prior representations) and that no representations had been made to (or would be relied upon by) plaintiffs.  Specifically, the Releases waived and released liability of the defendants for “any claims, demands and causes of action for invasion of privacy or publicity, defamation, infliction of emotional distress and any other tort in connection therewith.”

Plaintiffs had a bad experience in connection with the program, alleging that the “mock house” was on a sound stage, was cramped (they shared one bathroom), and was in a bad neighborhood.  Plaintiffs further alleged that they had their laptops and cell phones taken from them and they were not permitted access to the outside world.  The plaintiff assert that they were not provided counseling, and when a plaintiff asked to leave she was convinced to stay through unfulfilled representations by the defendants.  In one instance, the plaintiffs were intentionally exposed to a naked man and were apparently mocked as a result of their reactions (they were “shocked and horrified”).  Despite a lack of cooperation, the plaintiff indicated that there were eventually allowed to leave the house.  Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a civil action against the defendants alleging various emotional and physical injuries from the experience, asserting claims for (1) fraud, (2) negligent misrepresentation, (3) negligence, (4) breach of fiduciary duty, (5) violations of the Business and Professions Code, (6) rescission, (7 intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress.

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Coverage Denied for Injury to Motorsports “Participant”

January 19, 2011

T.H.E. Insurance v. Cochran Motor Speedway (Georgia)
(Minor in the pit area of a racetrack deemed to be a participant; insurance coverage denied due to a participant exclusion.)

A stepfather and his minor daughter attended a racing event at the defendant’s racing facility.  The stepfather purchased pit passes for himself and the minor, and he signed a waiver and release from liability and indemnity agreement on their behalf.  The stepfather had some sort of affiliation with one of the racing team’s that happened to be crowned the winner of the local points championship on the evening in question.  The team decided to celebrate the championship by driving the racecar back onto the racetrack to the front straightaway.  The minor daughter was placed on top of the car and it began to drive onto the racetrack.  While it was moving, she fell from the car and was injured.  The minor daughter then filed a lawsuit against the racetrack, its owner, and the driver of the race car to recover for her personal injuries.  The racetrack submitted the claim to its insurance company, which denied coverage and filed a claim for declaratory relief.  Eventually, the plaintiff insurer filed a motion for summary judgment based upon exclusions in the policy, and the Court granted the motion. (more…)