VENICE, Fla. — On Wednesday, the first hearing of the lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito’s family against the parents of Brian Laundrie was held to determine if the case will go onto a jury trial next year.
In a Venice courtroom, the Laundries were not present but, via zoom, Sarasota County Judge Hunter Carroll heard from their attorney on why the family filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
"Plaintiffs argue that the laundries had an obligation, a duty to speak, the law imposes no such duty to seek, and the state and federal constitution support that," said Matthew Luka, Laundrie family attorney.
But Joseph Petito and Nicole Schmidt are accusing Chris and Roberta Laundrie of not only concealing Brian's guilt by staying silent, but giving them false hope through their attorney’s statement that Gabby was still alive.
"With the full knowledge on the part of the Laundries that Gabby was not alive and that Gabby’s body was located somewhere out West, and instead they make a statement saying 'We hope you find her. We hope you are reunited,' giving them false hope that their daughter was still alive. If that’s not outrageous your honor then I don’t know what is outrageous," said Patrick Reilly, Petito family attorney.
The judge says he will have a written decision in a few weeks on whether the civil case will go to trial.
- Parents of Gabby Petito file lawsuit against parents of Brian Laundrie
- Parents of Brian Laundrie file motion to dismiss lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito's parents
- Parents of Gabby Petito to get jury trial against Laundries
Petito and Schmidt believe Gabby was killed on or around Aug. 27, 2021, the last day anyone had communication from the 22-year-old woman.
Gabby and Brian were in the middle of a cross-country trip, which she was sharing on social media in the hopes of becoming a "travel influencer."
Her parents believe Brian strangled her to death, then left the body to later be discovered at the Spread Creek campsite in Wyoming.
- Body found matching description of Gabby Petito in Wyoming
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They claim Brian sent texts pretending to be Gabby in an attempt to explain her whereabouts before he returned to the Laundrie's North Port home on Sept. 1 in Gabby's van.
From this point onward, Petito and Schmidt claim that the Laundrie family went on vacation, knowing where their daughter's body was located, that Brian had caused Gabby's death, and that her distraught family was seeking information.
They point to a Sept. 14 statement in which Chris and Roberta express, through their attorney, "hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful." A reply letter in which they implore the Laundries for more information about what they know went unanswered.
Petito and Schmidt claim the Laundries kept Brian's whereabouts after Gabby's death a secret. Brian's skeletal remains were found in late October in the Carlton Reserve. An autopsy showed Brian died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie filed past motions to dismiss the case which were rejected.
Their attorneys maintain Gabby's parents' claims are theoretical at best and prove no actual intent to cause additional suffering.
"By using terms such as 'increase' and 'prevent' to describe how the Laundries caused the distress, the Amended Complaint fails to satisfy the necessary element that the severe emotional distress would not have occurred absent the Laundries' silence," their lawyers write in a reply to the complaint.
The Laundries maintain they were exercising a Constitutional right not to speak with Petito and Schmidt. "[They] acted by choice, not by right," their attorneys say.