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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against movie, video game makers

The Associated Press


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Heath High Scho...
Heath High School shooting suspect Michael Carneal escorted out of McCracken County Courthouse after arraignment in Paducah, Ky., on Jan. 15, 1998.

PADUCAH, Ky. — A federal judge has dismissed a $33 million lawsuit filed against a group of entertainment companies by the families of three victims in the Paducah high school shootings.

The lawsuit alleged that teen-age gunman Michael Carneal was imitating violence he had witnessed in video games, movies and Internet sites when he fired shots into a student prayer group at Heath High School on Dec. 1, 1997.

The Paducah shooting was among the first in a string of school shootings nationwide that also included Jonesboro, Ark., Springfield, Ore., and Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

U.S. District Judge Edward Johnstone dismissed the lawsuit based on findings that the video game makers could not foresee what Carneal would do, and that the games are media that are not subject to product-liability law.

"This was a tragic situation, but tragedies such as this simply defy rational explanation and the courts should not pretend otherwise," Johnstone wrote in his opinion, released yesterday.

His opinion was based heavily on a similar case that arose a decade ago in which the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, a popular role-playing game, were not liable for a McCracken County, Ky., teen-ager's suicide.

The parents of the three girls killed in the shootings said they would appeal the ruling.

"We feel very strongly this case needs to be heard before a jury," said Sabrina Steger. "We'll do everything possible to see it goes to a jury."

The lawsuit accused 25 companies of negligence for not warning consumers that content the companies made available could incite copycat violence.

Among the influences cited was the 1995 movie "The Basketball Diaries," starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In one scene, DiCaprio's character, in a drug-induced haze, imagines he is roaming the halls of his high school, firing shotgun blasts at teachers and classmates.

Defendants included the film's makers and distributors, including Time Warner Inc., Polygram Film Entertainment Distribution Inc., Palm Pictures, Island Pictures and New Line Cinema, and computer game makers Atari Corp., Nintendo of America, Sega of America Inc. and Sony Computer Entertainment.

"We obviously are gratified with the decision," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, a trade group that represents 33 video game developers. "We said from the outset that there is no basis in law or in fact for this suit. As much as we'd like to find easy answers, there are none."

Carneal, who was 14 at the time of the shootings, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison.


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