Posts Tagged ‘damage theories’

Update: Dallas Observer doesn’t owe $1 billion

We reported on the story in September 2004:

“Joe Doe”, the HIV+ plaintiff in a Texas state lawsuit, is a member of the choral group “Positive Voices”—which has produced a CD with his photo and his real name. Nevertheless, when the alternative weekly Dallas Observer also identified “Doe” as HIV+ in passing in a larger December 4 story about a gay congregation titled “Fallen Angel,” “Doe” sued. The suit doesn’t allege that the Observer got its facts wrong, but argues that the story violates a Texas law prohibiting the disclosure of “medical test results,” with a fine of up to $10,000 for each disclosure. Since the Observer has circulation of 110,000, “Doe” figures he’s entitled to over a billion dollars.

Positive Voices is a group that advertises itself as consisting of HIV+ members. A Texas state court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court not to grant summary judgment, and entered judgment for the defendants. (John Council, “Texas Appeals Court Sides With Newspaper in $1 Billion Suit Over HIV Disclosure”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 13; New Times Inc., et al. v. John Doe., No. 05-05-00705-CV (Tex. App. Jan. 24, 2006)).

The decision was limited to the facts of the case, however, and the state statute remains overbroad, and could easily be construed by future courts to apply to the media. Or even personal-dating websites: a strict interpretation of the statute, HSC § 81.103, would create a cause of action for a plaintiff who posts “I have tested negative for HIV” on a website that screens essays against that website. And the statute is conceivably even broader, given its definition of “test result”:

“Test result” means any statement that indicates
that an identifiable individual has or has not been tested for AIDS
or HIV infection, antibodies to HIV, or infection with any other
probable causative agent of AIDS, including a statement or
assertion that the individual is positive, negative, at risk, or
has or does not have a certain level of antigen or antibody.

Lack of proper photo permission: $15.6 million

In 1986 California model Russell Christoff was paid a modest sum for doing a photo shoot with a photographer working for Nestlé but assumed nothing had come of it. Years later, Christoff happened to glance at a jar of the company’s Taster’s Choice instant coffee and realized that the tiny “satisfied coffee drinker” face on its label was his, it having appeared there for years. And now a jury in Glendale, outside Los Angeles, has ordered the Swiss-based food company to pay Christoff $15.6 million for using his picture without adequate permission. “The jurors determined that Glendale-based Nestle should have paid Christoff $330,000 for the use of his likeness. They also voted to hand Christoff damages equal to 5% of the profit from Taster’s Choice sales during the six-year period, or $15.3 million,” invoking a California law intended to protect celebrities’ image. A company lawyer says the employee who pulled the photo for use thought the requisite permissions had been obtained on it. So now if you notice Legal being really, really prickly about signing off on any proposed use of photos picturing people, you’ll know why. (Meg James, “Verdict Creates Instant Millionaire”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 1; James Bone, “The tiny face on this jar of coffee has just cost Nestlé 15m”, The Times (UK), Feb. 2).