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Okasana Baiul became famous after she beat both Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding to win the gold medal in figure skating at the infamous 1994 winter Olympic games. Then she fell into alcoholism, resulting in a 1997 car accident.
She revitalized herself, however, and joined season 13 of "The Apprentice." She's also the plaintiff in a defamation suit filed against Disson Skating and NBC, where she claimed Disson and NBC promoted her appearance at a skating event she was actually never supposed to appear at, then made statements creating the impression (she says) that she failed to show up for that appearance. The Second Circuit last week upheld a district court's dismissal of her claim, in which Brian Boitano makes a special guest appearance.
Can't Skate Now; Shopping
Baiul agreed to appear in skating events in December 2011 and January 2012, but backed out in July 2011. The shows went on, but her name was accidentally listed on promotional materials, which in turn led to her accidentally being included on a TV listing synopsis of the show's television broadcast.
Stephen Disson told The New York Post that Baiul was "flaky" and didn't show up to rehearsal one time because "she was out shopping." According to Baiul, these statements, combined with not performing in the show despite being listed on the synopsis, created the impression that she was unreliable and damaged her reputation.
The district court, however, couldn't find a libel claim in any of this. Disson said that he heard the "out shopping" claim from fellow superstar skater Brian Boitano. Baiul herself admitted that her former agent heard the same rumor, and in fact, it was well-known gossip in the figure skating community that Baiul had missed a rehearsal because she was out shopping. Baiul couldn't remember if she had ever missed a rehearsal because she was shopping.
And even if Disson's statements were false, Baiul couldn't prove any damages, even though she asked for -- wait for it -- forty million dollars in damages. The court didn't think much of this claim: "To call Baiul's arguments as to damages speculative is indeed charitable -- she offers no credible evidence whatsoever that she has suffered or will suffer any compensable damages as a result of defendants' alleged conduct," the court said. Her "wild" claims led her to being ordered to pay NBC's attorneys' fees.
Last Place for Meritorious Claims
The Second Circuit didn't think much of Baiul's claims, either, especially once Disson brought up that she was a public figure. This raises the standard of defamation to "actual malice," and the Second Circuit agreed that she was a public figure, throwing back her own characterization of herself as "a superstar in the world of figure skating."
What about Brian Boitano? The court said Baiul failed to show that the story about being "out shopping," attributed to Boitano, was made with reckless disregard for its truth or that the story was improbable or that Boitano was an unreliable source.
Given his storied past, spreading gossip about other skaters is not something Brian Boitano would do, now does it?