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Lindsay Lohan is being sued by a paparazzo who claims he was injured when the actress’s chauffeur ran him over while speeding away from a Hollywood club. Who is responsible when celebrity shutterbugs get injured for aggressive behavior?
Grigor Balyan filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in LA Superior Court against Lohan and her driver, Paola Demara, along with management company Tri Star Sports and Entertainment. He claims the defendants “so negligently, carelessly, and recklessly operated, maintained, repaired, owned, and controlled their automobile so as to cause an accident which resulted in personal injuries and property damage to Plaintiff.”
Lohan is not the first celebrity to be targeted by paparazzi for injuries. Among the stars previously sued are Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Willis, Woody Harrelson, Denise Richards, Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, and Chris Brown.
It was never supposed to be like this.
Throughout the years, California has enacted laws to protect celebrities from paparazzi intrusion. In 1998, the state passed legislation that expanded the liability of paparazzi by creating a cause of action against anybody who committed physical trespass or constructive invasion of privacy. That meant that celebrity photographers couldn’t use intrusive lenses to pierce the veil of private residences.
So the paparazzi became more aggressive out in the open, chasing down celebrities on highways or out of residences and nightclubs. In 2006, California reacted once again by extending the liability for assault to any individual who wanted to take a photograph of another person without regard to an expectation of privacy.
Unfortunately, the legislation still wasn’t enough to dampen the appetite or financial incentives for juicy photographs.
So in 2009, California once again made new laws to crack down on paparazzi, including permitting lawsuits against media outlets that make first use of material improperly attained.
Some believe the state should have gone much further. For example, around the time Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the last piece of anti-paparazzi legislation, many endorsed the idea of a “celebrity buffer zone” that would create some mandated distance between celebrities and photographers.
The proposals, though, kicked off First Amendment scrutiny.
On one hand, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal said in 1971 that the “First Amendment has never been construed to accord newsman immunity from torts or crimes committed during the course of newsgathering.”
But on the other, the Supreme Court momentarily considered in 1975 “whether the State may ever define and protect an area of privacy free from unwanted publicity in the press” without settling that question.
No matter the answer, the paparazzi have continually adjusted their tactics to shifting laws and remain undeterred. As the boldfaced names above show, the legal battle between celebrities and paparazzi is often a two-way affair.
Is Lohan in trouble in the latest lawsuit?
That depends, says personal injury attorney Eric Turkewitz.
“It’s all about the who, what, where, why and when,” he says. “For example, a photographer that leaps in front of a car to take a shot through the windshield is one thing. And a photographer standing on the curb to shoot through a side window when the car suddenly swerves is something else.”
Celebrities who are sued can argue that the photographers were too risky and contributed to their injuries.
That’s how Keanu Reeves beat a photographer’s lawsuit at a jury trial in 2008. In that case, a paparazzo claimed to be knocked to the ground and injured when trying to take pictures of Reeves leaving his house.
“(The plaintiff) was looking forward to making a lot of money that night from an image he thought he could sell,” Reeves’ lawyer Alfred Gerisch told the jury. “He threw caution to the wind, he threw out common sense.”
After an hour of deliberation, Reeves was cleared.
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