Woman wins suit against dating service, WBAL-TV

January 18, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

WBAL-TV and a video dating service invaded the privacy of a Sparks woman when her picture aired during a 1993 sweeps-month feature called "The Meet Market," a Baltimore County jury found yesterday.

The Circuit Court panel deliberated four hours before awarding Linda Gustafson compensatory damages of $5,000 from Hearst Corp., WBAL's parent company, and $75,000 from Great Expectations of Washington Inc., the dating service.

The jurors were to return for more testimony today on additional punitive damages from Great Expectations. The jury decided against punitive damages from the station and also found that the dating service had not promised confidentiality in its contract with Ms. Gustafson.

According to testimony last week, WBAL anchorwoman Carol Costello and a cameraman suddenly appeared on "special assignment" at Great Expectations' Towson office on May 12, 1993.

Vice President Ray Dixon Walker decided to cooperate rather than throw them out on camera. Mr. Walker played a video Ms. Gustafson had made as part of her membership, which was by then inactive. He said he told Ms. Costello not to use Ms. Gustafson's picture without permission.

Great Expectations called to ask Ms. Gustafson's permission, received an emphatic no, and left messages at the station telling Ms. Costello not to use the video, he said.

But Ms. Costello and officials of WBAL testified that they were told they could use the footage unless they heard otherwise -- and didn't receive any message from Great Expectations.

Ms. Gustafson said she was shocked when she suddenly saw her face appear in the two-part feature on the "desperate and dateless" that aired May 18.

Judge Dana M. Levitz told the jurors yesterday they would have to decide whether the defendants had invaded Ms. Gustafson's privacy by using her private life in a "highly offensive" manner without her consent.

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