Netflix denies ‘each and every claim’ in KY man’s lawsuit accusing them of defamation

Netflix is denying “each and every claim” made by a Kentucky man who alleges the streaming service made him look “dangerous” by putting his picture in a true-crime documentary.

Taylor Hazlewood, a 27-year-old respiratory therapist who lives in Kentucky, filed the suit against Netflix in a Texas court, alleging defamation after they used a personal picture of him holding a hatchet in a 2023 documentary titled “The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker,” according to his lawsuit.

An Instagram picture of Hazlewood is shown in the documentary with audio that says “stone-cold killer,” with text captions which say “you can never trust anyone,” according to the lawsuit. Hazlewood’s image is shown alongside pictures of Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, a hitchhiker made infamous after he was convicted of the murder of Joseph Galfy — who the film centers around.

However, in an answer to the lawsuit filed earlier this month, Netflix denies all of Hazlewood’s claims, and is requesting the lawsuit be dismissed on grounds of improper jurisdiction.

The suit was filed in a Dallas County District Court, which Hazlewood argued was proper due to the amount of controversy within Texas, according to court documents.

After asking the lawsuit to be dismissed, Netflix moved it to a federal court, court records show.

“The court has jurisdiction over this case because the amount of controversy is within the court’s jurisdictional limits, and Netflix’s wrongful conduct occurred in all 50 states,” Hazlewood’s lawsuit states.

After the documentary’s release, Hazlewood alleges he received dozens of texts from friends, former employers and family who alerted him to his picture was being used. He received these texts from residents in Kentucky, California, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana and Hawaii, according to court documents.

Netflix claims there is no connection to Texas, aside from the fact the documentary can be viewed in all 50 states. Netflix is a Delaware corporation, and is based in California.

“Texas is therefore an improper forum, and the case should be dismissed,” lawyers for the streaming service wrote in their response.

Hazlewood is seeking $1 million in damages for defamation and misappropriation of likeness or right of publicity.

“The harm that Netflix caused to Hazlewood has been extraordinary,” Hazlewood’s lawsuit reads. “The film has been viewed by tens of thousands of people, and as a result of Netflix’s false portrayal of him as, dangerous, as a murderer, and/or as an untrustworthy person, he has been subjected to personal distress, anguish and reputational harm.”

The story behind Hazlewood’s picture

Hazlewood has zero connection to McGillvary or his crimes, but was depicted alongside the man convicted of murder twice in the show, according to the lawsuit.

Hazlewood took the picture with the hatchet in June 2019 while spending time with a friend, according to court documents. He saw the hatchet, which reminded him of his favorite childhood book, “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, according to the lawsuit.

He decided to take a picture and post it to his personal social media.

“Without any reason, other than pure recklessness, Netflix misappropriated the Hazlewood photograph and used it in two separate parts of the film,” the lawsuit said.

Who is Caleb McGillvary?

McGillvary, also known as Kai the Hitchhiker, became famous after an interview with a Fresno, California, TV outlet describing an attack against a man with a hatchet in February 2013.

In the interview, McGillvary said he was riding in the passenger seat of someone else’s vehicle when the driver hit a pedestrian and pinned the pedestrian against a truck.

When a bystander tried to help, the driver attacked her, according to McGillvary’s original interview with KMPH FOX26 News. McGillvary said he attacked the driver with a hatchet to save the bystander, according to the interview, which features explicit language.

That same year, McGillvary was arrested on murder charges in relation to the death of 73-year-old Joseph Galfy, a New Jersey attorney. He claimed he killed Galfy in self-defense because Galfy drugged and raped him after he offered him a place to stay.

McGillvary was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2019, and is currently serving 57 years in prison, according to the Fresno Bee.

Despite being the main character of the Netflix documentary, McGillvary is also suing the company. He alleges they are “ruthlessly exploiting a hero’s life story for money,” according to the Fresno Bee.

Netflix is named as one of dozens of defendants who McGillvary claims stole intellectual property, interfered with business dealings and stripped him “of his heroic title for their own selfish gain.”

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