Sounds like a premises and operations claim to me. Apparently Oprah and her production company – Harpo Enterprises – are the targets of a recent lawsuit by one Orit Greenberg. The latter seeks at least $50,000 in damages, claiming that Harpo Studios negligently failed to exercise adequate crowd control during an “open seating” scramble on 12/5/06. The company told audience members to sit wherever they wanted. Allegedly, this triggered a stampede for the front row. The stampede knocked Greenberg down a fight of stairs, causing severe and permanent injuries.
No word on whether Greenberg eventually made it to her seat during that show. If so, perhaps there is some ready-made surveillance tape to scrutinize in assessing whether the plaintiff really looked injured or not.
Celebs – along with pro athletes -- are frequent targets for lawsuits. This is nothing new. They have money, perhaps few as much as Oprah, so they represent “deep pockets.” No telling how many civil suits Oprah has had filed against her, though I know of no “Oprah Class Action.” This is not the first civil suit against the big “O.” Years ago she was sued for defamation by the Texas cattle industry for making an anti-beef tirade on her show. Oprah eventually prevailed but it was during the trial that she came to know a jury consultant, Dr. Phil McGraw, later to become famous in his own right as “Dr. Phil.” Maybe this is an opportunity for a claims adjuster to become the next offshoot celeb (I wouldn’t bet on it, though).
The allegation against Oprah is reminiscent of civil suits years ago filed by plaintiffs injured in Cincinnati during an “open seating” concert with the classic rock group, The Who. Some patrons actually died in the trampling. Oprah’s melee pales in comparison but may draw from some of the same theories of liability, i.e., inadequate crowd control.
No word yet as to whether Oprah has liability coverage, a large SIR or is self-insured. Not only claim questions but litigation management issues abound. For example, does Oprah get to pick her own defense attorney or “settle” for the approved panel counsel assigned by her liability carrier? Will counsel be held to “panel rates” or bill at a gaudy stratosphere rivaling Skadden Arps? Will she be entitled to Cumis counsel if her insurer reserves coverage rights?
For those interested in becoming the next Dr. Phil – or Dr. Claims – step right up and offer to adjust Oprah’s claim. If you do well, maybe you will be the subject of a future Oprah show, “The Ultimate Adjuster”!