By: Rob Harris
Four years ago, not long after Vijay Singh filed suit against the PGA Tour, I offered my assessment: “I find the claims in the complaint to be particularly weak from a legal standpoint.” I also predicted that “[p]rotracted litigation will hurt both the Tour and Singh. The case will settle in short order.”
Oops and Double Oops.
As most have heard, New York Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten has determined that certain of Vijay’s claims are sufficiently strong to warrant presentation to a jury. And, in so ruling, she made clear her view that, on certain issues, the claims indeed are strong. So, after four years of protracted litigation, it’s off to trial they go.
Having at least acknowledged at the time of my failed Nostradamus act that “my legal analysis [could be] wrong,” let me now offer my–current and undoubtedly better informed–view that the Tour has real exposure.
Judge Bransten held that Vijay has a right to present to the jury his claims that the Tour acted in bad faith in the way it announced, and then rescinded, a suspension based on Vijay’s use of deer antler spray. After initially taking the view that the spray contained a banned substance, the Tour learned from the third party lab to whom it outsourced such issues that the spray was clean. Judge Bransten noted that the Tour’s agreement with its players regarding substance issues requires it to conduct an “appropriate investigation” into the potential violation. For Judge Bransten, there is a very real question–for a jury to decide–as to whether the questions the Tour asked the third party lab after it announced Vijay’s suspension should have been asked before the suspension announcement:
“It does not stretch reasonableness for Defendant to have reviewed pre-existing material on this subject to determine whether WADA [the third party lab] had already decided this issue before issuing the suspension, as opposed to affirmatively presenting it to them for consideration only months after rendering its decision….[I]ndicating it may be reasonable for Defendant to consult the agency which it proclaims to be the ‘experts’ in this field merely suggests one way the investigation could have been ‘appropriately’ performed.”
Judge Bransten also held that Vijay can present to the jury his claims that the Tour harmed him in the endorsement arena by speaking out about him at press conferences. In particular, then Tour Executive VP Ty Votaw, when asked if the deer antler spray was on the list of banned substances, inaccurately answered “yes”. Vijay contends that 7,000 articles branded him a cheater, diminishing and destroying his reputation, and he has presented supporting evidence that he lost out on sponsorship opportunities as a result. This issue, too, is to be decided by a jury.
So, at the risk of further off base predictions, here are mine:
- The case will settle before trial. The amount will be confidential, but there will be a public statement from the Tour apologizing to Vijay.
- If I’m wrong on #1, and the case goes to trial, the jury will find in Vijay’s favor. Damages will be +/- $7.5 million.