Lawsuit: “Dash Cam Diaries” ID’ed wrong person’s name and photo as limo thief

April 15, 2014

Dash Cam DiariesMost of the time, people are excited to see themselves featured on television.

However, one individual is suing because of it.  To be fair, though, it is because that person was mistakenly identified as the perpetrator of a limousine theft.

The plaintiff in this lawsuit, Keith Todd, is suing NBC Universal because of his portrayal on the TV show “Caught on Camera: Dash Cam Diaries.”

The particular episode in question portrayed an incident that originally occurred on October 15, 2009.  On that date, an individual named Todd Keith stole a limousine in Detroit, Michigan.  The limousine’s owner witnessed the limousine being refueled at a gas station, and initiated a physical confrontation with the limo thief.

The police responded to and intervened with the altercation, and arrested Mr. Keith.

In November of 2013, “Caught on Camera: Dash Cam Diaries” aired footage of the incident’s arrest and chase.  However, the TV show referenced Mr. Todd as the limousine thief, not Mr. Keith.

There are likely a significant number of people named “Keith Todd,” so why is this worth suing over?

Well, because the TV program displayed a photograph of Mr. Todd when mistakenly identifying him as the limo thief.

According to the complaint, Mr. Todd’s uncle, with whom he lives, first viewed the program (and was reportedly “shocked” to see his nephew’s photograph publicly displayed during the episode), and thereafter alerted Mr. Todd to the situation.  The same episode was aired again on January 5, 2014.

Mr. Todd has allegedly been approached in public places by several different professional acquaintances  and “persons unknown to him” who had seen this episode of “Dash Cam Diaries” and inquired about Mr. Todd’s appearance therein.  The complaint further alleges that the episode refers to Mr. Todd as a “habitual car thief.”

The first cause of action listed in the complaint is defamation (specifically, libel), and for obvious reasons.  NBC published the false statements about Mr. Todd, and such publication resulted in damage to Mr. Todd’s reputation in the community.

The only truly relevant legal question on this issue will be whether NBC made this publication “with knowledge of the falsity of the statements or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.”  While it seems unlikely that NBC broadcast the episode knowing that they had identified the wrong individual as the perpetrator, it seems a bit more reasonable to conclude that NBC acted in reckless disregard of the truth when making the broadcast.  After all, it’s a pretty significant statement to accuse someone on a national broadcast of stealing a car.  One would assume that NBC should check their facts fairly thoroughly beforehand.

However, the next two causes of action – intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress – may not be quite as successful.  For the intentional claim, the complaint claims that the defendants’ actions were “for an ulterior motive or purpose,” yet it is never revealed what this ulterior motive is.

The negligent claim has a higher chance of success, since there is no intent element that need be proven.  But the success of this claim, as with any infliction of emotional distress claim, hinges on the success of any accompanying claims (such as the defamation one).

Finally, we have a claim for negligence.  A finding of negligence on NBC’s part seems a foregone conclusion, if the complaint’s allegations are true.  The complaint names several other defendants, though: the owner of the limousine service from which the limo was stolen; and the Eastpointe Police Department, which effected Mr. Keith’s arrest.

According to the complaint, A-One owner and two Eastpointe Police officers incorrectly used Mr. Todd’s name multiple times throughout the program while referring to his photo, and publically referring to Mr. Todd “by name and photo as a criminal.”

Furthermore, the complaint claims that, “on information and belief, Eastpointe P.D. incorrectly researched their database and sent the photo, name, and information of the Plaintiff to NBC Universal.”

So while it seems that NBC was certainly negligent in identifying the wrong individual as a criminal on a nationally-televised program, it also seems that NBC had some assistance in being negligent.

While it may behoove the defendants in this case to settle sooner rather than later, some questions still remain in my mind.  First, after the November 2013 broadcast, did Mr. Todd attempt to contact NBC and inform them of the error?  If so, then the second broadcast in January 2014 would be especially egregious.  On the other hand, if this lawsuit is the first time that the defendants are hearing about the mix-up, the court may allow them time to issue statements correcting their mistake, which may mitigate some of the damage.

In any case, this matter isn’t likely to proceed that far into litigation, since the mix up not only harmed Mr. Todd’s reputation, but could also potentially harm the credibility of NBC for airing (twice) a program that mistakenly accuses of committing a crime someone who had no involvement in the matter.