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Viacom Spent Millions After MTV Showed Dead Man's Body

Media giant turns to its insurer to foot the costs of a lawsuit over "T.I.'s Road to Redemption."

T.I.
AP Images/Invision
T.I.

From the annals of reality show nightmares comes the tale of how Viacom had to spend millions of dollars after the MTV reality series T.I.'s Road to Redemption showed a dead man's body during its premiere episode, titled "You Are Responsible for Your Own Actions."

Viacom doesn't believe it's financially responsible for what happened and has taken the AXIS Insurance Company to court to get the firm to reimburse its legal costs and reach a settlement. The complaint, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, provides some detail about what happened, while a 2011 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution fills in the background.

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The series focused on hip-hop star T.I. (whose real name is Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.) as he awaited sentencing on weapons possession and attempted to counsel youth against a life of crime. The episode in question took T.I. to a funeral home, where he saw the body of Joseph Williams, whom the mortician said was a "hustler" whose parents don't know how he died.

Williams' family sued.

The claims were invasion of privacy, negligent misrepresentations about the decedent, violation of likeness (even though Williams' face was reportedly shown out of focus) and, perhaps most worthy of a morbid bar exam question, interference with the family's contract with the funeral home. (The funeral home reportedly paid to have the body cremated.)

The story would have ended there if it weren't for Viacom's new lawsuit against AXIS Insurance, which reveals that after a mediation on June 29, Viacom came into an opportunity to settle the case "for an amount that, even after deducting from the $5 million policy limit the extensive defense costs incurred during more than three years of litigation, was within the $5 million policy limit of the Insurance Policy."

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AXIS believes it's on the hook only for up to $3 million, according to the media company's complaint.

At issue is a single word — "occurrence."

Although the insurance policy had a total limit of $5 million, it also had a limitation of $3 million for "Each Loss," which is defined in the policy as "all Damages and Claim Expense arising out of an Occurrence."

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AXIS appears to be arguing that the broadcast of the dead man's body is a single occurrence, while Viacom states "the Decedent's Family alleged numerous separate acts, and thus numerous 'Occurrences,' that caused distinct losses."

So now Viacom wants somewhere between $3 million and $5 million (and we surmise the lawsuit implies the figure is near the higher end) lest it "be forced to pay from [its] own pockets the costs of defense and settlement."

In sum, millions spent after showing a dead man's body, but hey, Viacom still has a chance for redemption, and then some. Viacom is demanding its insurer pay punitive damages too.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner