December 11th, 2014
November 15th, 2012
Photographers’ injury lawsuits against pugilistic celebrities and their bodyguards are too commonplace to count as news these days, but a report about the case of photographer Sheng Li v. actor Sam Worthington caught our eye because of the actor’s defense. Call it the serves-you-right defense.
According to a Radaronline.com report, paparazzo Li is suing the star of Avatar and his girlfriend, Lara Bingle, for $10 million in damages. Li alleges they caused him a shoulder and wrist injury during a scuffle on a New York City sidewalk, presumably after Li tried to photograph the couple without their consent.
Worthington’s defense, according to Radar, is that getting attacked by celebrity subjects is an occupational hazard for the paparazzi. Li “knew the hazards,” he argues. Therefore, he’s responsible for his own injuries.
Worthington is partly right: getting attacked by celebrities is a well-reported risk of paparazzi work. But assault, even against annoying people, is still illegal. And unless that changes, getting sued for outrageous sums of money will probably remain an occupational hazard for celebrities, or at least hot-headed ones.
A California law meant to impose special penalties on the paparazzi for reckless driving has been declared unconstitutional by a Los Angeles County superior court judge, according to several news reports.
Judge Thomas Rubinson said the law was too broad when prosecutors invoked it against photographer Paul Raef. The paparazzo was charged with reckless driving last July after a high-speed chase of pop star Justin Bieber’s car.
The law, which was enacted in 2010, imposes extra penalties on anyone who drives dangerously to take photos for commercial gain. It was intended to target the paparazzi, although it could be used to prosecute photojournalists rushing to breaking news events.
The extra penalties include jail terms up to six months and fines up to $2,500. It was signed by former governor (and actor) Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it was supported by several celebrities who have lobbied state lawmakers to pass laws restricting the activities of the paparazzi.
Raef was first to be charged under the law when he chased Bieber’s car on a California freeway last summer at speeds that allegedly exceeded 80 miles per hour.
Rubinson said the law interfered with news gathering activities protected by the First Amendment.
Reaf still faces reckless driving charges and fines that any driver might face, but he’s no longer subject to the additional penalties called for by the photos-for-commercial-gain law.
And the law itself has not been struck down entirely. Rubinson’s ruling on the law applies only to Raef’s case. If prosecutors appeal the ruling to a higher court, the law could be struck down entirely.