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Federal appeals panel upholds dismissal of lawsuit against movie, video game makers

By The Associated Press

08.14.02

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PADUCAH, Ky. — A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a $33 million lawsuit that claimed the makers of video games, a pornographic Web site and a movie studio were to blame for a 1997 shooting spree at Heath High School in which three students died.

"We find that it is simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen (an activity undertaken by millions) to shooting people in a classroom (an activity undertaken by a handful, at most)," Judge Danny Boggs said in the ruling from a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The suit claimed the entertainment companies were responsible for the slayings because they exposed the gunman, Michael Carneal, to violent and sexual images.

In its unanimous ruling yesterday, the court upheld a lower court's ruling that dismissed the case, saying the companies couldn't have known that someone would commit such a crime after playing the games or viewing the movie or Web site.

The appeals court also said the content of the video games, movie and Internet site are protected by the First Amendment right to free expression.

The plaintiffs were the families of the three girls killed by Carneal. Michael Breen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they haven't decided whether to appeal to the full 6th Circuit or to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. He said the court "went into a lot of new legal territory" in its opinion.

Richard H.C. Clay, a Louisville lawyer representing defendant Id Software, the maker of the "Quake," "Doom" and "Castle Wolfenstein" video games, hailed the ruling.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, and that is precisely what we have here," he said.

On Dec. 1, 1997, Carneal walked into the lobby of Heath High School near Paducah, pulled out a pistol and opened fire. He killed Jessica James, Nicole Hadley and Kayce Steger, and wounded five others.

Carneal, who was 14 at the time, has said he was influenced by "The Basketball Diaries," a movie that includes a dream sequence in which the main character shoots several students and a teacher with a shotgun.

Carneal is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for 25 years at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange.

"We have no way of knowing if he viewed our video games or not," Clay said, "but we certainly do not think there is any connection whatsoever to the shootings."

Update

High court won't revive suit blaming Hollywood for school shooting
Case questioned the responsibility of moviemakers, other entertainment companies for movies, video games and other products that feature violence.  01.21.03

Previous

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against movie, video game makers
Media producers could not foresee that Paducah, Ky., teen would go on shooting spree, court finds.  04.07.00

Related

Columbine lawsuit against makers of video games, movies thrown out
Federal judge finds 'it is manifest that there is social utility in expressive and imaginative forms of entertainment, even if they contain violence.'  03.05.02

Witness tells Senate panel: Video games taught teen killer how to shoot
Committee chairman expresses frustration that industry executives rejected invitations to attend hearing on the impact of video game violence on children.  03.22.00

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