Celebrities and Tort Law

In an idiotic article entitled “Justice for Justin” (May 31, 2012), Bill O’Reilly claims that “[w]e absolutely need tort reform in this country”.  The focus of his anti-lawsuit tirade is the possibility of a lawsuit by a photographer who claims he was assaulted by Justin Bieber.

O’Reilly writes:

[T]he odds are that this is yet another shakedown generated by a loser and his sleazy attorney who will game the system, hoping Bieber will throw some money to them in order to make the annoyance go away.

There are now legions of lawyers who will file lawsuits against famous and rich people for just about anything. Lawsuits cost money to defend, and the media is overjoyed to publicize any and all alleged “transgressions.” No evidence has to be provided to the press; just a lurid accusation is enough. This is now an industry–Fleecing the Rich and Famous. …

But if you really look at what’s happening, it’s despicable. Legalized extortion and blackmail is now an epidemic in America.

Famous people are routinely slandered, libeled, followed, and menaced in public. And there’s little they can do about it. If you are a public figure and/or have money, you are a huge target, and will get little sympathy from the courts or in the court of public opinion.

Bah.  True, many lawsuits are ultimately dismissed because they are legally or factually unsupportable and a subset of those result in sanctions under state and/or federal laws/rules that punish litigants and/or their attorneys for prosecuting them.  It may very well be that any lawsuit filed against Bieber will ultimately not succeed and be deemed “frivolous” (at least one source claims that the alleged victim had “no visible injuries”).

But to use this “case” as a rallying point for tort reform is just silly.  We constantly hear of celebrities behaving badly and/or having a misguided sense of self importance (as to the latter, see Ryan “Are you following me?” Reynolds).  It is hardly a leap to envision those same celebrities developing the belief that they have the “right” to, for example, punch anyone they perceive as even a minor annoyance – which, in their distorted world view, may very well qualify as being “menaced”.

Furthermore, for O’Reilly to suggest – without having, as I’d guess is the case, all the facts of the Bieber/photog encounter or a working knowledge of California tort law – that any such lawsuit filed against Bieber would be frivolous is wildly irresponsible at best.

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