Why John Oliver's HBO Show Just Got Hit With A Lawsuit

In his career as a pundit of comedy and critical thinking, John Oliver has attracted a lot of negative attention from those he seeks to undermine on his newsy HBO series Last Week Tonight, but the most recent episode has earned the show its biggest blowback yet. Oliver -- along with HBO, Time Warner, Partially Important Productions and more -- are at the center of a lawsuit brought about by coal mining magnate Robert E. Murray, who is apparently not happy with what was said about him on the most recent episode. What's more, Oliver predicted it.

For the Last Week Tonight episode that aired on Sunday, June 18, one segment featured John Oliver going to town on Robert E. Murray, who is the head honcho of Murray Energy Corporation, the U.S.' biggest privately owned coal company. The claims made on the show portrayed Murray as a boss who didn't do enough to put miners' safety first and foremost, and Oliver was particularly critical of Murray for a mine collapse in Utah back in 2007, responsible for nine people's deaths. And as the episode was coming to a close, Oliver welcomed a man in a squirrel suit (meant to represent the squirrel rumored to have advised Murray to start up his coal company) who foresaw how things would play out legally, telling "Bob" that suing would only net three acorns and some pocket change.

And, less than a week later, that lawsuit actually came into existence when filed in Marshall County, West Virginia. As reported by The Daily Beast, the suit takes broad swipes at Last Week Tonight and John Oliver for the episode, in which Oliver stated that attempts to contact Murray Energy were met with a cease-and-desist letter, apparently a first for the HBO show. Most of the lawsuit appears to be hot air, according to First Amendment litigator Ken White, but there are a couple of points that could stick.

For one, in reference to the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse, Oliver said government conclusions put the blame on the mining company's miscalculations and mistakes, while Robert E. Murray himself claimed it was because an earthquake occurred. The lawsuit states that Murray's legal team sent Oliver's team reports that backed up the earthquake claims, but that the the paperwork was ignored. As well, some legit gripes could be made about another one or two points explicitly concerning factual statements, but for the most part, Last Week Tonight isn't expected to face much of a hit here.

Robert E. Murray's lawyers likely want to keep the suit situated within West Virginia, where area coal miners would obviously be behind the company putting them in work. But it's more than possible that HBO's legal wranglers will attempt to get things moved up to its home turf in New York.

With loads more ire-stoking left to come, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs Sunday nights on HBO at 11 p.m. ET. While waiting to hear how things shake out with the politically driven series, head to our summer TV premiere schedule to see everything else the small screen has to offer.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.