SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — A judge has denied a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit stemming from the death of Gabby Petito at the hands of her fiance, Brian Laundrie.
Gabby's parents claim intentional infliction of emotional distress by the Laundries. They allege the Laundries knew their son strangled Gabby to death and left the body in Wyoming and then didn't give the Petitos information that would have given them closure sooner.
In the June 22 hearing, Judge Hunter Carroll repeatedly asked about the legal duty that the Laundries had to volunteer any information they had to Schmidt and Petito.
The Laundries' lawyer stated that they had no legal obligation to speak up to Schmidt and Petito, since no one was compelling them to speak (i.e. with specific questions).
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However, the judge pointed out that the Laundries had spoken publicly, through the auspices of attorney Steven Bertolino.
During the search for Petito's whereabouts in Sept. 2021, Bertolino issued the following statement.
“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family. It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family. On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”
"If the facts of this case truly were about silence," the judge's opinion continued, "the Court would have resolved this case in the Laundries' favor."
"Because the Laundries’ statement by their attorney in the context of the unique facts of this case is objectively outrageous, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have stated causes of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Laundries. The Court denies the Laundries’ motion to dismiss," the judge wrote.
Steve Bertolino, attorney for the Laundries, issued the following statement after the judge's decision.
"Chris and Roberta Laundrie, and myself, are disappointed with Judge Carroll’s decision to deny the motion and allow this lawsuit to proceed. Judge Carroll points out that the September 14, 2021 statement, standing alone, does not suggest outrage, but within the context of the other allegations in the case, the plaintiffs have met the threshold to go forward to the next phase. The Laundries will continue to use all available legal means to preserve their rights."
Pending any further filings, a jury trial is set to begin in August 2023.