Personal Injury

When Reality TV Goes Too Far

"It's not real. It's just a show." Sometimes reality shows on network and cable television get a little too real for everyone involved.

"Jersey Shore"

Jersey Shore, or the "Shore," is a very popular reality TV show on cable's MTV. In case you've never watched or heard of it, the show tracks eight roommates, all in their 20's, as they go about daily life in various vacation spots. Often, there are altercations, arguments, even fights between cast members and members of the general public who get involved in the filming of the "real life" episodes.

In 2010, while the Shore was taping episodes in Miami, Florida, Carrie Malec entered the nightclub where the show was being taped. According to her, she was attacked by two female cast members while Malec was dancing with several the show's male cast members.

She filed a lawsuit against the cast members, MTV, and others, for assault and emotional distress. She's asking for $75,000 in damages and for an injunction barring MTV from airing the episode.

Nothing New

It's not the first lawsuit for the Shore. New Jersey lawyer Eugene Lavergne has filed three lawsuits for people claiming they've been physically assaulted by members of the Shore's cast or crew.

Other reality shows sometimes share the same fate. For example, in 2010, the cable TV reality show Female Forces was sued by the driver of a car who was stopped by female police officers. The footage showed him vomiting. He claimshe didn't give the show permission to use the footage and that it was deliberately designed to humiliate him.

Is It Criminal?

Both Lavergne and Malec's attorney, Blake Horwitz, claim that the Shore's record of abuse and mistreatment amounts to RICO-like crimes. They claim the show's cast, crew, and other employees purposefully provoke violence or create dangerous situations and profit from it. RICO crimes involve a group of people who work together to commit various crimes to make money. The mafia or organized crime is a good example.

It's an interesting theory, and perhaps the attorney general from one of the states connected to the Shore lawsuits will look into the matter. But that doesn’t seem likely right now. However, that may change if lawsuits keep mounting (the Shore has announced a third season will air in 2011), or if someone is seriously injured at the hands of cast or crew.

What You Can Do

"Guests" like Malec who happen to show up at the location where a reality show is in action need to be wary of their surroundings and try to make good decisions. If you know the show has a reputation for scuffles or violence, it may be a good idea to avoid the location.

Generally, you have to give your consent before a TV show can use footage showing you. If you're asked for it, think carefully about it. Ask an attorney to look at it, too. The show may have the right to use it forever or sell it to someone else. If you're not asked for consent, you should talk to an attorney immediately to protect your rights and your privacy.

Malec claims she didn't give MTV her consent to use the footage showing her, and she claims MTV is using it as part of the "promo" for the show. If true, it spells more trouble for MTV.

If you're asked to sign any type of waiver, again read it carefully and ask a lawyer to look at it. Usually, by signing a waiver, you agree not to sue someone if something happens to you, like if you get hurt during a stunt on reality show. Waiving important legal rights shouldn't be taken lightly.

Reality TV can be fun and entertaining. However, the safety, well-being, and personal rights of guests, contestants, and innocent bystanders shouldn't get lost in all the fun.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if an insurance company offers to pay for my medical bills after I get hurt during a reality show?
  • Does my teenager have the legal right to sign waiver and consent forms for a reality TV show? 
  • Can a reality TV show block my face but show my body if I don't give it consent to use footage I'm in?  
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