Jim Porter: Aruba suspects sue Dr. Phil, CBS
You may recall the still-unresolved 2005 disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway who was on a high school trip to Aruba, a Caribbean country, part of the Netherlands.
Holloway was supposedly last seen at a bar called Carlos’n Charlie’s with two brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe and their friend Joran van der Sloot. All three changed their stories many times and were arrested and rearrested over and over by Aruban authorities, as were several other individuals.
Ultimately, all charges were dropped. Natalee Holloway’s body was never found. Van der Sloot went on to murder a woman in Peru on Jan. 23, 2010 to which he pled guilty and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
CBS hired a private investigator, Jamie Skeeters, to travel to Aruba in the summer of 2005 to investigate Holloway’s disappearance.
Skeeters arranged to meet with Deepak Kalpoe by promising he would help exonerate him. In fact, they met and Skeeters secretly recorded and videotaped Kalpoe.
The Dr. Phil program showcased the videotape with Kalpoe admitting he and Holloway had sex. Kalpoe later claimed he did not consent to the videotaping and recording and the tape had been manipulated.
DR. PHIL, CBS SUED
Deepak sued Dr. Phil and CBS for defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent misrepresentation, deceit, civil conspiracy and the kitchen sink, including a request for punitive damages to punish Dr. Phil and CBS.
The good Dr. Phil and CBS defended claiming Kalpoe did not demand a correction of the broadcast under Civil Code Section 48a.
DEMAND FOR CORRECTION
Section 48a in part reads: “In any action for damages for the publication of a libel in a newspaper, or of a slander by radio broadcast, plaintiff shall recover no more than special damages unless a correction be demanded and be not published or broadcast, as hereinafter provided. Plaintiff shall serve upon the publisher … a written notice specifying the statements claimed to be libelous and demanding that the same be corrected … within 20 days after knowledge of the publication or broadcast …”
In other words, if you believe you’ve been libeled (a written false publication) or slandered (a verbal false statement) you must demand that the alleged libelous publication or broadcast be taken back or corrected.
If the injured party does not make that demand for a correction, he or she may only sue for special (actual out of pocket) damages which are very limited and in this case would amount to almost nothing.
The Court of Appeal went through an exhaustive analysis of the history of Civil Code Section 48a, finally concluding that Deepak Kalpoe had to demand a retraction or correction of Dr. Phil’s TV broadcast within 20 days after he saw it.
As he did not make that demand, Kalpoe may not recover potentially significant general damages for loss of reputation, invasion of privacy, shame, mortification and hurt feelings, and may not recover punitive damages. In other words, Kalpoe could win his lawsuit but would recover essentially nothing.
IF YOU ARE SUED
The take-home point here is if you believe you’ve been libeled or slandered, you must make a written demand for a retraction or correction within 20 days or your lawsuit for damages is minimal.
What the Court did not discuss in the Dr. Phil case was what part of the TV broadcast was not true. I guess we’ll never know.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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