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Jury Makes Award in Airport Case;
Candid Camera to Appeal

    LOS ANGELES – In a suit brought by a man photographed in a Candid Camera sequence two years ago, a jury has awarded $300,000 in “punitive” damages against the production company and host Peter Funt. Lawyers for Candid Camera immediately filed an appeal challenging the size of the award.

    The case involved a TV sequence at the Bullhead City, Arizona, airport in which Funt, posing as a security guard, instructed passengers to roll through a phony x-ray machine. One unsuspecting passenger, Philip Zelnick, received a bruise to his thigh while getting off the conveyor belt.

    In court, Zelnick made no claim for doctor bills or other economic damages. The jury awarded him a total of $2,600 in compensatory damages.

    But in the trial’s second phase, the $300,000 award was made as the jury sought to “punish” Candid Camera and set an “example” for other hidden-camera programs. The jury seemed to be primarily concerned with the concept of impersonating an airport guard, although it was clearly established during the trial that the sequence was fully approved and supervised by the airport management and security chief, and was done with the awareness of the airlines and the FAA. The incident occurred three months prior to September 11, 2001.

    The Mojave County Airport Authority reached a settlement with Zelnick during the trial for $95,000 – a sum about which the jury was unaware. Zelnick was also paid $7,500 earlier by the PAX-TV Network.

    “We expressed our regret over Mr. Zelnick’s injury within moments of the incident and offered compensation,” said Peter Funt. “Clearly the jury was not impressed with claims relating to his injury. It is our contention that Candid Camera has served for over five decades as a model for what is right about the genre loosely called reality TV, and it is not appropriate to punish us in order to send a message to others who have truly abused the hidden-camera concept.”

    In challenging the punitive damage figure, Candid Camera is citing recent guidelines from the U.S. Supreme Court that punitive damages must be in reasonable proportion to compensatory damages. Courts have generally accepted a ratio of up to 9:1 in such cases, whereas the jury’s award in this case exceeds 100:1.

    “This entire case was given unfair momentum by a terribly misleading article last January on the front page of The New York Times,” stated Peter Funt. “The Times reported that Zelnick was ‘screaming’ and ‘bleeding all over the place,’ which was completely false. This, along with other inaccuracies in the story, plus the fact that Zelnick appeared on several TV magazine shows prior to the trial, served to blow this out of proportion.

    “I firmly believe that this award will be dramatically reduced on appeal.”

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