ORLANDO, Fla. – Two Florida men are suing the producers of the reality TV series "Trauma: Life in the E.R.," (search) saying their privacy rights were violated when they were filmed while being treated for injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents.
Plaintiffs Jack Dosch and Angel Marrero say they were commercially exploited when they were most vulnerable during their treatment at Orlando Regional Medical Center's emergency room in 2002. They want the federal suit turned into a class-action.
The suit, filed Wednesday, is against the producers, NYT Television, which is owned by The New York Times Co.; The Learning Channel (search) and its owner, Discovery Communications (search); and the hospital's parent company.
"Americans pay for the greatest health care service in the world, and they pay a premium," lawyer Brandon Peters, who represents Dosch and Marrero, was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying. "As such, patients deserve to be treated as dignitaries and not laboratory rats."
Peters didn't question the right to broadcast the material, but the filming and production process.
"We have concerns about the methods employed by the New York Times (television company) to obtain consent from these people," Peters said.
Peters said film crews misrepresented themselves to patients and wore medical garb to blend in with nurses and physicians and failed to fully explain the nature of their work. The suit also alleges that the companies sold raw video footage to other production companies and have since marketed a compilation of the most critical patients.
David McCraw, a lawyer for the New York Times Co., said the patients or, if they were incapable, their next of kin, signed consent forms allowing the videotaping. Anyone who refused to sign was not taped, he said.
McCraw said that the Florida suit was filed because a New Jersey state judge refused to make a similar suit there a national class-action. He said the suit will be defended.
Hospital spokesman Joe Brown also said that every Orlando Regional patient who was taped only appeared in the series after signing consent forms.
The show is no longer in production and such filming would be difficult today under a law protecting patients' privacy that came into effect in 2003, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
A spokeswoman for The Learning Channel did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.