The Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a media company must pay about $700,000 damages to a doctor who was shown on television offering drugs for illegal purposes.
In September 1995, the medical issues reporter for KTVX Channel 4, Mary Sawyers, aired hidden-camera video of an Orem physician, Dr. Michael Jensen, offering to supply her with Fastin and Pondimin, which were the most commonly prescribed weight-loss medications at that time, according to the ruling.
Then he told her he would be willing to work with her if Fastin was not effective for her, perhaps by giving her Dexedrine, an amphetamine in the same family as speed.
Prescribing Dexedrine for weight loss was illegal, and the broadcast story cost Jensen his job at Columbia FirstMed Clinic, the ruling states.
Mountain View Hospital revoked Jensen's privileges to practice medicine there, and Intermountain Health Care removed Jensen from its insurance panel.
Nine months later, the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing filed a petition against Jensen that alleged unprofessional conduct.
KTVX broadcast a story about the petition and reminded viewers about the hidden-camera interview of Jensen. A third KTVX broadcast about questionable doctors again reminded viewers about Jensen and brought them up to speed on his licensing censure, the opinion states.
Jensen sued for defamation of character and later changed his complaint to include false-light invasion of privacy because the statute of limitations for defamation — one year — had expired by the time he filed the case after the first and second broadcasts.
He was awarded $3.2 million in damages for his loss of business, for attorneys' fees and for punitive damages by a 4th District Court jury.
United Television Inc., which formerly owned KTVX, appealed the jury's award, and the Utah Supreme Court agreed Jensen's evidence for loss of income didn't warrant the jury's verdict.
At the same time, Jensen appealed the amount awarded for his attorneys' fees, which the Supreme Court affirmed, because one of Jensen's attorneys failed to adequately enumerate appropriate costs for the case.
In 1996, during the initial trial, 4th District Judge Ray Harding instructed the jury to consider the first two broadcasts separately from the third broadcast. And for the third broadcast, the jury awarded the damages.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out much of the damage award, reducing it from $3.2 million to $697,000, said Bob Anderson, who represented United Television in the suit.
"The jury improperly awarded economic loss and punitive damages to Dr. Jensen on his claims relating to the third broadcast," the court stated.
Bob Anderson, who represented United Television in the suit, said he is quite pleased with the damage reduction, but said he and his clients are still digesting the 42-page ruling from the Supreme Court.