What’s The Verdict UPDATE: Mitre Sports International v. HBO

What’s The Verdict UPDATE: Mitre Sports International v. HBO

If you haven’t read our first blog on the case, click here to get a little background.  

New York federal judge has given HBO a reason to be seriously concerned about the outcome of a pending trial, which will determine whether a 2008 report about child labor in India made on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel defamed Mitre Sports International.

As of today, the judge indicated that HBO’s parent company Time Warner’s revenue from last year could be relevant in calculating punitive damages. Time Warner made a whopping $5.4 billion in revenue. U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels hasn’t made an official decision on whether to allow punitive damages, although he has hinted that a jury may get to weigh such punishment, in the event that HBO is found liable for defamation. How will the details of Time Warner’s revenue affect the jury?  According to HBO’s attorney, Dane Butswinkas, if the jury hears about the billions in revenue, it would be “highly prejudicial…compounded that this is the last thing the jury will hear.”  To put in simply, if the jury hears that Time Warner made billions in revenue, it could lead them to believe that HBO had a financial incentive to fabricate.  Judge Daniels remains unconvinced that Time Warner’s financial condition isn’t relevant to punitive damages and says, a person who makes $10 who is found liable, can be punished by $10 in punitive damages.  To be clear, it COULD be relevant, but it is not relevant YET.

Before the trial began, it was confirmed that Mitre Sports isn’t a public figure, and so, Mitre won’t have to demonstrate malice in order to win. This doesn’t mean that they are incapable of proving malice, it simply means they are not required to. If Mitre wants to collect more than compensatory damages (i.e. punitive damages), and send a message to HBO, the plaintiff (Mitre) will need to go beyond just showing that HBO was grossly irresponsible.  In an effort to show this, Mitre has introduced much evidence; however, the most corroborating evidence appears to be testimony from the children featured in the report.  One testified that she was paid 100 rupees to pretend to be a soccer-ball stitcher and two more also said they weren’t soccer-ball stitchers and were tricked by HBO’s stringers.

My first instinct is this does not look good for HBO in terms of trial.  My second instinct is could this actually be true that HBO induced a form of child labor [paying to pretend] in a controversial report on child labor?! Remember, this is simply evidence presented by the plaintiff, so the defense likely cross-examined witnesses and made attempts to undermine their credibility.  Whether or not the evidence presented constitutes malice is first up to Judge Daniel’s and possibly then the jury’s. Also, an interesting side note: Bryant Gumbel got on the witness stand earlier this week saying he didn’t have much to do the the report except for the fact that he presented it.  Yikes! Again, this does not look good.  If Mitre has proved defamation with malice, details of revenue will be given to the jury.  Closing Arguments will be tomorrow.  Stay tuned for more on What’s The Verdict!

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