In August, a family filed a lawsuit against the streaming giant Netflix and alleged that the death of their teenage daughter was triggered by watching the show. A federal judge based the ruling on free speech protections, dismissed the lawsuit and ruled in favor of Netflix.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, pointing to a law allowing the dismissal of cases that infringe upon protected speech, ruled that Netflix cannot be sued over recommending the show to viewers. “This is a tragic case,” Gonzalez Rogers said. “But ultimately, I don’t think that it survives.”
The lawsuit was filed by a bereaved father John Herndon who alleged that Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why failed to adequately warn viewers about its suggestive content and “manipulate[d] them into watching content that was deeply harmful to them.” The show depicts the events that precipitate a teenager’s suicide.
In a response filed in December, Netflix sought to dismiss the lawsuit and said in court filings that restrictions on programming would lead to censorship of creative works. The streaming giant moved to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which compels the dismissal of claims challenging speech that might be protected. “Creators obligated to shield certain viewers from expressive works depicting suicide would inevitably censor themselves to avoid the threat of liability,” lawyers for Netflix wrote. “This would dampen the vigor and limit the variety of public debate.”
During the hearing on the motion to dismiss, John Herndon’s (teenager’s father) lawyer, Ryan Hamilton, clarified that his client’s suit takes aim not with the show’s content but the algorithms that promote it. “What this case is about is the private targeting of vulnerable children and consequences that were not only foreseeable and were foreseen but that Netflix was warned about,” he said.
In response to the arguments from Hamilton, Gonzalez Rogers indicated that they likely do not apply because it is impossible to “disassociate and untangle the content of that show” from the claims in the complaint.” “If you attempted to sue on the grounds that you didn’t want the content of the show to be disseminated, you’d lose.” she said.
According to THR, while plaintiffs in cases are typically given opportunities to fix their claims, Gonzalez Rogers said that it might be in their interest for her not to allow leave to amend because it would allow them to immediately appeal. She ordered Hamilton to respond by January 18 on whether he wants to file an amended complaint.
However, amid continuing outcry over the particular scene of the show, Netflix removed the original, nearly three-minute-long excruciating suicide montage in the season one finale. The show ended up running for four seasons, with the series finale in 2020.