Does Miss Colombia Have a Legal Case?

It was the mistake heard ’round the Universe, and one ugly night for the beauty biz.

Steve Harvey mistakenly crowns Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, as the new Miss Universe, when Miss Phillippines, Pia Wurtzbach, was the rightful owner of the highly coveted headpiece.

Survey says? Embarrassing to say the least. Unfortunately, the hits didn’t end there for the comedian and Family Feud game show host. In an attempt to make things right,

“I want to apologize emphatically to Miss Philippians and Miss Columbia.  This was a terrible honest human mistake and I am so regretful.” @IAmSteveHarvey

The tweet was quickly removed and replaced with yet another apology (sans spelling errors).  Did you notice? That’s right, he misspelled the nations of both contestants.

Now to the legal nitty-gritty of all this. Can or should Miss Colombia file a lawsuit? Would it be against Steve Harvey, the Miss Universe Organization, or both? What claim(s) could she bring?

Well, it seems Miss Colombia is indeed going to take legal action. According to The Manila Times, lawyers for the beauty queen plan on suing the Miss Universe Organization AND Steve Harvey.

The Colombian law firm, De la Esperiella, announced on Twitter they are drafting a lawsuit, saying “the crown is an acquired right that cannot be taken away from us.”

So what exactly will the basis of their lawsuit be?  For a negligence claim Miss Colombia would have to prove the following:

  1. The defendant (Steve Harvey or Miss Universe Organization) owed a duty of care to her
  2. That duty of care was breached by the defendant (e.g., the defendant acted unreasonably or carelessly)
  3. The harm suffered by Miss Colombia was a direct result of that breach
  4. It is foreseeable that the harm would be a result of the defendant’s breach
  5. Miss Colombia actually suffered a harm

However, not all harm is compensable. There must be some physical or psychological injury or damage to property. If the damages alleged is the loss of the crown, then negligence would not apply.

Some have also suggested that she might have a negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) claim. She probably did suffer embarrassment, maybe even severe embarrassment, but NIED only applies in cases where there is either a physical impact (and there was none), or serious emotional distress that actually manifests in physical symptoms. [1. Olivero v. Lowe, 116 Nev. 395, 399 (2000).]

From De la Esperiella’s statement, it sounds like they’re not looking for emotional damages, but the crown itself. Such a result would not be without precedent. You may recall that during the 2002 Winter Olympics, there was a question as to which country would receive the gold medal for pairs figure skating, and after discovering that the judge from France was implicated in collusion, both Russia and Canada were awarded the gold medal. This claim would have to be based in something other than negligence, and could potentially rely on the contract between Miss Colombia and the Miss Universe Organization.

At first glance, we here at Parry & Pfau would say it doesn’t look like Miss Colombia has a strong case, but new details could come to light that change all that—it’s too early to tell.

You be the judge.  What do you think of this very public, and ugly mix-up?  Does Miss Colombia have a case? If so, should she sue?


Zachariah B. Parry is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau and is an adjunct professor who teaches torts, contracts, and Nevada practice and procedure for UNLV’s paralegal program. He can be reached at 702-912-4451 or [email protected]

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