Singer Peggy Lee was awarded a multimillion-dollar damage claim Wednesday in her lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. for video rights to the classic animated film “Lady and the Tramp.”
But no sooner had the Los Angeles Superior Court jury returned its verdict than lawyers for both sides began disputing the amount Lee might get.
The jury’s awards in the four causes of action against Disney and its subsidiary, Buena Vista Home Video, totaled $3.8 million.
But Disney insisted that those who say the award is $3.8 million--including Lee’s attorneys and some members of the jury--had misread documents containing the verdict and did not understand the judge’s instructions. The real award, the studio says, is $2.3 million.
Judge Stephen Lachs will have the final say in the matter in a ruling expected April 16.
“I accept whatever it is,” the 70-year-old Lee said wearily, although sources close to her have indicated that the jazz star is disappointed.
Lee--who co-wrote six songs and provided the voices for four characters in the 1955 film, for which she was paid $3,500--had sued Disney for failing to pay her when “Lady and the Tramp” was released on videotape.
Lee had contended--and the court earlier agreed--that because her 1952 contract forbade Disney from selling records or transcriptions of “Lady” without her permission, she should have been paid when the film was released on video--even though home video, as such, did not exist when the document was written.
The weeklong trial involved only the question of how much money Lee should receive.
Throughout the proceedings, the platinum-blond singer sat quietly near the jury box in a wheelchair. She suffers from a variety of illnesses and has been unable to walk since breaking her pelvis in a fall.
Lee charmed the jury by punctuating her testimony with anecdotes from her days as a big band singer--recalling tours with Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra and her later hits, such as “Fever” and “Is That All There Is?”
Her initial suit sought $50 million in actual and punitive damages against Disney, which has earned approximately $140 million from box office receipts and videotape sales of the film about a high-class cocker spaniel who falls in love with a mutt from the other side of the tracks.
But when Lachs ruled that punitive damages would not be allowed, Lee’s attorneys limited their request to $12 million in royalties that they contended Lee would have been paid had Disney asked her permission before releasing the tape.
The jury awarded Lee $2.3 million for breach of contract, plus $500,000 for unjust enrichment, $600,000 for illegal use of Lee’s voice and $400,000 for the use of her name.
Lee would not comment on the award. Her attorney, Neil Papiano, called it a victory.
“Everybody likes to get more,” he said, “but when the judge ruled that we couldn’t get any punitive or future damages, $3.8 million, plus interest, plus attorneys fees, turns out to be a very nice number and a nice judgment.”
But Ed Nowak, vice president and counsel for Disney, said that Lee’s award actually amounted to $2.3 million.
The judge, Nowak noted, had made a point of telling the jury that Lee’s award was not to be cumulative--that is, the damages for different claims should not be added up to produce a final number. The Disney official said that the stipulation in fact was requested by Lee’s attorneys during discussions of jury instructions.
“The judge said to Ms. Lee’s attorneys, ‘What you are telling me I should tell the jury (is that) if Ms. Lee recovers on three causes of action, she is only entitled to the largest . . . figure,’ ” Nowak said, reading from a court transcript.
According to the transcript, attorney David Blasband, who also represented Lee, replied, “That is all right, your honor.”
Nowak said that Disney had not decided whether to appeal. But the studio’s lead counsel, Roy Reardon, said earlier that unless the judgment against the company were quite small, Disney likely would appeal.