ENTERTAINMENT LITIGATION: KEANU REEVES WINS TRIAL AGAINST PAPARAZZI

JURY REJECTS PHOTOGRAPHER’S CLAIM THAT REEVES RAN HIM OVER WITH HIS PORSCHE

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury cleared actor Keanu Reeves of any wrongdoing in an entertainment litigation filed by a photographer who claimed that Reeves ran him over with his Porsche. The photog, Alison Silva, claimed over $700,000 in damages and allegedly broke his wrist when Reeves tried to drive away as Silva tried to take his picture. Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before rejecting Silva’s claim earlier this week.

The Reeves case is interesting — not because a jury found in Reeves’ favor — but because entertainment litigations filed against celebrities of Reeves’ stature rarely go to trial.

REEVES’ WILLINGNESS TO DEFEND HIMSELF IS REFRESHING BUT UNUSUAL

Major motion picture stars like Reeves seldom find themselves in a civil trial. When faced with a lawsuit filed by someone like Silva — overzealous paparazzi, aggressive bouncers, insulted fans — most celebrities choose to settle claims rather than face the burdens of litigation. In fact, conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that the potential bad publicity which comes with litigation is a risk to avoid. Plus, the cost of defending a lawsuit — even meritless ones — often exceeds the settlement payment which a plaintiff might accept during the early part of a case. Factor in the busy schedules of most A-list celebs and it’s understandable that cases like this rarely see a courtroom.

However, caving in to the demands of a plaintiff with a meritless case has its own risks. The wealthy and famous are already viewed as easy targets. Publicity sensitive and busy celebrities even more so. Contingency plaintiff lawyers with opportunistic clients always seem to sense such weaknesses when filing their cases — regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of any claim. Unfortunately for Silva and his lawyer, Reeves wasn’t so ready to cave in.

In most cases, the decision to fight the case, rather than pay relatively modest sums, can be difficult. I have defended both celebrities and entertainment companies in cases filed by plaintiffs looking for a quick buck. In most cases which I have handled, the economic reality of substantial defense costs and the willingness of a plaintiff to accept far less than the expected costs essentially forced early settlements in such cases. However, I’ve defended other cases where the plaintiff’s unreasonable demands, or some “principle” implicated by the case, forced us to litigate the case to conclusion.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

The Reeves case is an exceptional one. The decision whether to litigate the case to conclusion seems to have been dictated by two factors. First, Silva’s demands seem exorbitant and based on alleged injuries which were less than credible. Had Silva and his lawyer demanded an amount far less than the $700,000 they sought at trial, settlement would have been more likely. Second, Reeves was accused of running Silva down with his Porsche. Thus, Reeves was likely defended by his insurance company and probably did not have to pay much, if any, for his defense.

Nevertheless, Reeves’ willingness to take the time and effort to fight an apparently bogus claim should be lauded. In these kinds of cases, it is important that the star and his representatives receive good counsel from a practical perspective. There are good arguments for paying a reasonable ransom early in a case — and equally good arguments for refusing to acquiesce to extortionate demands. Conventional wisdom should not dictate these kinds of decisions. Without due and careful consideration of how to handle these disputes, celebs risk becoming known as an easy mark. In a litigious world, such precedent can be both dangerous and costly in the long run.