Friday, April 27, 2012
Woman wins $5.8M suit over unapproved appearance in ‘Girls Gone Wild’ orgy video
The company that makes “Girls Gone Wild” DVDs is seeking to overturn a verdict awarding nearly $6 million to a St. Louis-area woman who claims her bare breasts were recorded without permission.
St. Louis Circuit Judge John Garvey last month sided with Tamara Favazza in her suit against Mantra Films Inc. and MRA Holdings LLC, awarding her $5.77 million. She was a 20-year-old college student in 2005 when someone lifted her tank top during a party at a St. Louis bar, exposing her breasts. Another person filmed it. She later discovered the recording was part of the “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy” DVD series.
Favazza claimed in the suit originally filed in 2008 that she did not give consent and the resulting DVD damaged her reputation. A St. Louis jury sided with the DVD makers in 2010, but a retrial was granted.
Garvey issued his ruling on March 5. On Wednesday, the defendants filed motions asking that the judgment be set aside and a new trial granted.
Jeffrey Medler, an attorney for Favazza, said he will “vigorously oppose” any effort to overturn the ruling.
Several messages left with David Dalton, the last listed attorney for Mantra Films and MRA Holdings were not returned. Phone calls to Mantra Films’ office in California went unanswered.
“Girls Gone Wild” videos and DVDs, featuring young women exposing themselves on camera, have made a fortune for founder Joe Francis. But he has been targeted with dozens of lawsuits from women who said they were upset at being filmed. Francis was originally named in Favazza’s suit but was dismissed from the case in 2009.
The video was made at a bar then known as the Rum Jungle near the St. Louis riverfront. Earlier court testimony indicated that a woman acting as a contractor for “Girls Gone Wild” pulled down Favazza’s shirt at the shoulder strap, exposing her breasts.
Favazza, now a 26-year-old wife and mother, claimed that she only became aware of her appearance in the video when a friend of her husband pointed it out. She sued soon after learning she was in the video.
Three months after a jury sided with “Girls Gone Wild” in 2010, the judge in that case, John J. Riley, ordered a new trial, ruling that the verdict didn’t reflect the weight of evidence. He wrote that it was clear in the video that Favazza was an “unwilling participant,” saying she is seen mouthing the word “no” as her shirt is pulled down.
But attorneys for Mantra Films and MRA Holdings said at the first trial that signs posted at the bar explained how the video would be used.
The case took another twist in January when Dalton withdrew as counsel. When the judge heard the case on Feb. 17, Favazza’s attorneys presented their case, but there was no representative for Mantra Films or MRA Holdings.
In asking for the judgment to be set aside, Dalton wrote that the defendants “reasonably and rightfully believed they were still represented by counsel and that the cause was being defended.”