Why the 'Bruno' lawsuit is a bit more serious than those 'Borat' cases

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Why the 'Bruno' lawsuit is a bit more serious than those 'Borat' cases

Wed Jun 03, 2009 @ 11:49AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Bruno Another Sacha Baron Cohen movie, another round of litigation.

Today brings the first case filed by a "victim" of Universal's upcoming "Bruno." But at least from initial reports, this one's very different from the "Borat" cases filed (and later defeated by Fox) back in 2006.

Despite all the media coverage, most of the "Borat" cases were essentially filed by a bunch of people who felt duped into signing release forms (or who Cohen failed to get signatures from). An interesting legal issue, but the stakes weren't very high.

Now a woman named Richelle Olson has sued Cohen, NBC Universal and others saying the stunt comedian and his crew physically attacked her and left her crippled at a bingo hall in 2007.

According to TMZ's account of the lawsuit, Olson was told that Bruno was a celebrity and would participate in a charity bingo game she ran for the elderly in Palmdale. But when he showed up, Olson says Bruno used foul language and caused a disturbance. A struggle ensued, she eventually fell, and she says Cohen's crew beat her up to try to elicit an emotional response for the cameras.

She says she was crying uncontrollably and hit her head. At the hospital she says she was diagnosed with two brain bleeds and has been in a walker and wheelchair ever since. Pretty serious allegations. (A Universal rep told us they're not commenting on the suit.)

The studio obviously knew it was opening a can of legal worms by releasing Cohen's latest film. But it's interesting that the claims have little to do with the woman's appearance (or non-appearance--we don't even know if she's in the final cut) on screen. Fox essentially got the benefit of the publicity the "Borat" litigation added, without losing any costly or embarrassing court cases (in at least one instance, Fox went after a plaintiff for attorneys fees and won). It will be interesting to see whether Universal stands behind Cohen and fights the case or tries to extricate itself from what is essentially an assault claim.

One initial question: if the attack allegedly happened in 2007, why is the lawsuit just being filed now? Perhaps Olson has at least something in common with the "Borat" plaintiffs: they know the value of timing.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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