Kim Basinger's contract case overturned on appeal

A MULTI-MILLION dollar damages award that changed the casual way in which deals are made in Hollywood and drove the actress Kim Basinger into bankruptcy has been overturned.

The California Court of Appeals ruled that the jury was given improper instructions when it decided that Ms Basinger, 39, must pay dollars 8.1m (pounds 5.2m) to a film production company after she backed out of a starring role, partly because she objected to nude scenes.

The breach-of-contract award came in March 1993 after a jury decided that Ms Basinger had broken an oral agreement to appear in Boxing Helena, only four weeks before shooting was due to begin. The actress, who denied any contract existed, later explained to the court she was only prepared to consider being in films with 'artistic', rather than graphic or gratuitous, nudity. Nor did she much like the script. The film was finally made with Sherilyn Fenn, of Twin Peaks fame, but notched up total sales of only dollars 2.7m.

The jury's initial decision caused a hiatus in Hollywood, as it has long been practice for stars, agents and studios to seal agreements with a handshake, by mobile phone, limo-to-limo fax, or by signatures on napkins over lunch. It also prompted Ms Basinger, star of Batman and 9 1/2 Weeks, to file for bankruptcy, and draw up plans to sell her house, artwork, and belongings. She has sold a tiny bank which she bought in Georgia for dollars 1.5m at a bankruptcy sale.

The appeal court ruled that the presiding jurist, Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin, gave 'prejudicially ambiguous' instructions to the jury, by not making it clear whether Ms Basinger or her production company would be liable for the damages, which were awarded to Main Line Pictures.

Main Line has claimed that Basinger's departure cost it between dollars 5 and dollars 10m, and was initially awarded dollars 8.9m, although this was later amended to dollars 8.1m. The appeals court ruling leaves open the possibility of a retrial. 'They can re-try it, but it will cost them a bundle,' said Ms Basin ger's lawyer, Howard Weitzman.

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