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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

I ain't sayin' he's a gold digger…

I ain't sayin' he's a gold digger…


But court costs can be a high price to pay for some positive PR, writes Douglas Campbell

On 1 August 2017, Kanye West (through his touring company Very Good Touring, Inc.) filed proceedings in California against Lloyds of London for $9.86m for failing to pay out on a claim made under an insurance policy, designed to cover losses incurred if his 2016 tour was abandoned or cancelled.

A number of shows were rescheduled or curtailed after West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, was robbed in Paris and following the rapper contracting a throat infection. The latter half of the tour was ultimately cancelled because West’s behaviour had become increasingly “strained, confused, and erratic”.

The insurance claim was submitted on 23 November 2016. While Lloyds has not officially commented, and has yet to reject the claim outright, the complaint (equivalent to particulars of claim) pre-emptively asserts that coverage may be denied on the basis that West’s condition was caused by his use of marijuana.

Regardless of the merits of either party’s arguments, the complaint reads more like the synopsis of a Netflix series than the summary of the factual and legal arguments behind a damages action. The document gives details about West’s health problems while accusing Lloyds of being on a “hunt for some contrived excuse not to pay” and stalling the decision “to successfully ‘plant’ the confidential information with news outlets”.

Such emotive language is relatively commonplace in US courts, where it is not unusual for high-profile individuals to use the judicial system to promote their own PR agenda.

Provided a claim is not frivolous and may have some evidential support, there are no financial repercussions from filing proceedings. There is no pre-action protocol, a party cannot be liable for defamation for anything written in a court document, and there is no general rule that a plaintiff will have to pay the defendant’s costs if they are unsuccessful.

While court costs are payable, this is a modest price to boost a PR campaign (whether to expedite a convoluted insurance process, win back fans’ goodwill, or otherwise).

Fundamentally, it comes down to knowing your audience, and the design of the UK court system lends itself poorly to PR. The emotive language seen in West’s complaint would not go down well with British judges. While lyrical assertions such as “the artists think they’re buying piece of mind. The insurers know they’re just selling a ticket to the courthouse” make for good copy, they are not a concise statement of the facts on which West relies.

This is reflected in the availability of court documents. While UK documents are publicly available to those who know the system, US documents are readily available to all. They are frequently published in the press so can be an important tool for promoting a celebrity’s image.

However, the major difference lies in the cost consequences of using the court system unsuccessfully. In the US, only the court costs are payable. In the UK, particularly if the court concludes that you have misused its process, costs can be very expensive… a high price for some positive PR.

Image: Kanye West © David Shankbone

Douglas Campbell is a solicitor in the commercial disputes and regulation team at Shepherd and Wedderburn @shepwedd