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Reality television isn’t always bloodless. But victims are going to have a tough time collecting damages without demonstrating how producers proximately caused injuries.
The lesson comes from an appellate victory earned last week by HBO and Eames Yates Productions.
In 2001, HBO provided funding so that Yates could procure video footage for a possible reality TV show featuring the Emergency Services Unit of the New York Police Department. Two years afterward, a film crew captured an ESU squad as they executed a search warrant in a basement apartment being used to sell stolen goods. As police entered the premises, one of the detectives mistook an object in Vivian Rodriguez‘s hands to be a gun. She was hiding in a bathroom and was shot once in the abdomen.
Later, Rodriguez sued New York City, the NYPD, HBO and Yates for her injuries. The case has been dragging on for about a decade.
The plaintiff was allowed to pursue claims that HBO and Yates conspired with the police to use excessive force during the execution of the search warrant in order to maximize the entertainment value of the video footage. But the woman failed to convince a New York judge that the media defendants had directly or indirectly participated in a common plan or design to commit tortious acts causing the injuries.
In a ruling affirming a summary judgment dismissal, the New York appeals court writes, “Yates and HBO demonstrated that they did not make any suggestion or recommendation as to how the police should conduct themselves during the execution of the search warrant. In addition, contrary to the plaintiff’s contention, the evidence submitted by Yates and HBO demonstrated that the videographer never entered the building, let alone the apartment in which the plaintiff was shot. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact.”
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