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Claiming they can’t be held civilly liable for “silence,” Brian Laundrie’s family asked a court Wednesday to toss out a lawsuit that accuses them of hindering the search for Gabby Petito.
Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt sued this month in Sarasota County, Florida, where Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, the parents of the presumed killer, live.
The Laundries shouldn’t be made to pay because they shunned publicity or communication with the plaintiffs, defense lawyer Matthew Luka wrote.
“As a matter of law, the Laundries’ silence [conduct] could not form the basis of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress,” he said.
“If the Laundries’ ‘act’ of doing nothing, other than maintaining their privacy and silence, is enough to subject them to this supposed cause of action then there would be virtually no limitations on the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the fundamental right to remain silent under any circumstances would be obliterated.”
Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt said last month that the defendants “knew of the mental suffering and anguish” they were experiencing while their daughter was missing but refused to disclose information about her whereabouts. And in doing so, they “acted with malice or great indifference,” according to the lawsuit.
While the defense said it’s sympathetic to the emotional pain Petito’s loved ones must still be suffering, Laundrie’s parents said they can’t be held responsible for it.
“The Plaintiffs were understandably fearful about what happened to their daughter and they would have been upset about their daughter regardless of anything the Laundries could have said,” Luka wrote.
“But that fear or sadness was not caused by the Laundries — it was an unfortunate, unavoidable part of the entire circumstances surrounding Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito.”
Gabby Petito, an aspiring social media influencer, vanished on a cross-country trip with Brian Laundrie, her boyfriend, in a saga that filled newspaper pages and cable TV newscasts for weeks last summer.
Her body was found Sept. 19 in Wyoming. The cause of death was later ruled a homicide by “manual strangulation” at least three weeks earlier, a coroner said.
Brian Laundrie’s body was found in Florida a month later. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot and left notes saying he was responsible for Petito’s death, officials have said.
An attorney for Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
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