Dr. Phil, CBS Won't Pay Punitive Damages in Lawsuit Over Natalee Holloway Show

Two brothers are suing producers for secretly taping them and then manipulating the video, but they failed to demand a correction.
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Dr. Phil

The story of Natalee Holloway might seem a tabloid relic by now, but Phillip McGraw, CBS Paramount Domestic Television and Peteski Productions are still mired in a seven-year-old lawsuit over a 2005 Dr. Phil episode devoted to the disappearance of the American teenager. The defendants, at the very least, won't face the possibility of punitive damages after a ruling by a California appeals court on Tuesday.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Deepak Kalpoe and Satish Kalpoe, residents of Aruba, who were questioned in connection with Holloway's disappearance.

Producers of the Dr. Phil show hired a private investigator to travel to Aruba, and the investigator allegedly arranged to meet Deepak by telling him that the talk would help exonerate him. The meeting is said to have been secretly recorded.

The episode aired, and Deepak claimed he hadn't consented to the videotaping. Moreover, Deepak claims the video was manipulated to make it appear as though he had admitted that he and his brother had sex with Holloway when in truth, he denied it. The plaintiffs are suing for defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, misrepresentation and deceit.

The case is ongoing in a Los Angeles Superior Court and pending, at the moment, is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. In the meantime, an appeal was pursued regarding to the judge's ruling that barred the Kalpoe brothers from introducing evidence regarding general or punitive damages for failure to demand a correction.

The basis for limiting damages in the absence of a demand for correction is California Civil Code section 48a, enacted in 1931 and amended in 1945. Plaintiffs in libel cases can only collect "special damages" (quantifiable monetary losses) without a correction demand made within 20 days.

The Kalpoes argued that the statute only applied to media engaged in the business of "immediate dissemination of news," rather than the type of show that Dr. Phil is.

California appeals court judge Fred Woods says in the ruling there's nothing in the legislative history of the statute to suggest an intention to limit its reach to breaking news broadcasts, nor finds any support of their position in relevant case law.

"A close examination of the cases reveals the scope of section 48a is determined by the type of media involved, and not upon specific content," writes the judge. "Therefore we cannot conclude the statute only applies to visual and sound broadcasting which is engaged in the business of rapid and immediate dissemination of the news. The language of the statute clearly applies to all types of television shows."

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