Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Embodiment of evil TV host Nancy Grace has been sued by the parents of Melinda Duckett, the mother of a missing boy. Duckett underwent a rather harsh interview by Grace that at least suggested suspicion of Ducket in her son's disappearance.
Overlawyered is unsurprisingly skeptical. I'm not so sure that -- if the facts as alleged are true -- there's not a decent intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, though certainly I'm hesitant to go so far as to find liability for the suicide. In general, of course, unless the decedent acted while insane or suffering delirium, legal cause in most states precludes liability for suicide. I haven't looked at Florida law, but I'd be surprised if it's different.
The key fact for a claim based on something short of the suicide to me in the complaint is the alleged bait and switch, where Ms. Duckett apparently believed she was going on the show only to publicize her son's disappearance, not to undergo a cross-examination. The complaint certainly focuses on Ms. Duckett's suicide, but presumably the plaintiffs could prove some level of distress short of the suicide (perhaps using the suicide as evidence of that distress, even if no recovery was allowed for her death itself).
The claim for IIED asserted by the parents in their own right, based on the decision to air the interview within hours of Ms. Duckett's suicide, seems somewhat more problematic, in particular in showing intent (even under the reckless disregard standard) and causation.
In any event, if you cover intentional torts late in the course, or if you're just looking for a good IIED hypothetical, this might be worth considering.