A woman named Kaden Mahaffa has filed suit against Dr. Phil, claiming he is responsible for her mental breakdown.
But the case is not for medical malpractice. Instead, Ms. Mahaffa claims her breakdown resulted from Dr. Phil’s misleading her about her appearance on the talk show.
According to her lawsuit, the Dr. Phil staff had arranged for her to appear on the show to discuss the alleged abuse her boyfriend suffered at the hands of his mother and grandmother. But in a pre-interview, the show’s producers discovered that Ms. Mahaffa believed she “possessed various supernatural powers, including the ability to communicate with the dead, read people’s minds, see with X-ray vision, and intuitively write ancient languages.” This apparently sounded like a way more interesting topic than the abuse.
So when the show started taping, Dr. Phil turned his attention to Ms. Mahaffa’s alleged super powers, “aggressively” interrogating her and insisting that she demonstrate her powers. The audience apparently got caught up in the moment and laughed and jeered.
According to the complaint, Ms. Mahaffa suffered a mental breakdown backstage after the taping, causing the police to be called and having her involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Ms. Mahaffa’s complaint contends she experienced suicidal thoughts and was harassed by viewers after the show aired.
She is suing for infliction of emotional distress and fraud. The complaint argues that “[a]ny reasonable person — let alone a clinical psychologist like Defendant McGraw (Dr. Phil’s last name) — would immediately recognize that Ms. Mahaffa was a mentally-ill individual in crisis, not someone to be exploited on a national TV show.” That is not an unreasonable point. But she still may have a tough time on the fraud claim.
I imagine that Ms. Mahaffa signed a contract governing her appearance on the show. And I suspect that contract has disclaimers bursting the seams. One of them is very likely the right to discuss any matter, with no control ceded to the guest. Assuming she signed that deal, a fraud claim is going to be tough to make. She knew what she was getting into.
The emotional distress claim may generate a little more sympathy, but that is not exactly a slam dunk either. That cause of action requires that the defendant act in a manner “beyond the bounds of decency.” So the court will have to decide where those bounds are exactly. So if the bounds are set with reference to society generally, she may have a case. But if the bounds are set with reference to the world of day time talk shows it may be a different story. We’re talking a universe populated by Jerry Springer and Maury Povich for crying out loud. Making fun of someone because they believe they have x-ray vision is more like standard operating procedure.