A class action alleges Netflix chose to release “13 Reasons Why” in March 2017 without adequately warning viewers of its subject matter despite being made aware that it could contribute to an uptick in child suicides.
January 13, 2022 – ’13 Reasons Why’ Class Action Against Netflix Dismissed
The proposed class action detailed on this page has been dismissed after a federal judge found that the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote that the plaintiffs’ claims are subject to California’s anti-SLAPP statutes, laws intended to prevent people from using litigation and threats of litigation to intimidate parties who exercise their First Amendment rights. Under anti-SLAPP laws, the party being sued typically makes a motion to strike the case on the grounds that it involves speech as a matter of public concern. The plaintiff then has the burden to show a probability that they will win the suit.
Ultimately, Judge Gonzalez Rogers said that the plaintiffs’ attempts to oppose Netflix’s argument that the claims are subject to anti-SLAPP laws on the grounds that the lawsuit does not concern the content or dissemination of “13 Reasons Why” “do not persuade and are inconsistent with the allegations.”
“Netflix has met its burden that plaintiffs’ claims ‘aris[e] from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue[,]” the order states. “There is no dispute here that youth suicide, depression, and sexual assault are of great public interest.”
In the six-page order granting Netflix’s motion to toss the case, Judge Gonzalez Rogers also stated that the plaintiffs failed to state a valid legal claim.
Specifically, the judge found that the plaintiffs, as siblings to the deceased, lack standing to bring a wrongful death claim given the child has surviving parents. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ negligence and strict liability claims against Netflix are time-barred by a two-year statute of limitations, the order states.
Judge Gonzalez Rogers granted the plaintiffs time to consider whether they can amend their complaint, and the parties must submit to the court a statement indicating whether they will revise their suit by January 18, 2022. If the plaintiffs decide to try again, they must do so by February 8.
A proposed class action alleges Netflix chose to release the show “13 Reasons Why” in March 2017 without adequately warning viewers of its subject matter despite being made aware that it could contribute to an uptick in child suicides.
The 24-page lawsuit alleges Netflix ignored the risk of an increase in child suicide upon releasing the controversial series, which focuses on the story behind a high schooler who dies by suicide, and instead “prioritize[ed] its own strategy goals of market dominance in the youth demographic” over the lives and well-being of vulnerable young people “it knew would suffer—and die—if it did not provide greater warnings and take reasonable, common-sense steps to avoid using its data in a reckless manner that harmed children.”
Prior to its release of “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix, the complaint says, was warned by experts armed with decades of empirical research that child suicides and other “profound psychological harm” would occur should young viewers not be adequately warned of the health risks “inherent in viewing the [s]how.” Despite this, Netflix failed to take “reasonable, appropriate, and commonsensical cautionary measures” in favor of pushing the show on a targeted demographic of “unsuspecting and vulnerable children,” the lawsuit alleges.
According to the suit, as child suicide numbers rose in the month following the release of “13 Reasons Why,” which is based on the novel by author Jay Asher, experts began to notice a pattern that could have been stemmed had Netflix meaningfully warned viewers about the show’s subject matter and its associated dangers:
“As children began to die, the experts started to piece the tragedies together. For example, years after the Show’s release, the National Institute of Mental Health associated the 28.9% increase in the child-suicide rate during the month of April 2017 with Netflix’s Show—a child-suicide spike that could have been avoided had Netflix taken basic moral responsibilities to warn and to not target its most vulnerable viewers.”
In releasing “13 Reasons Why,” which was instantly and heavily criticized for depictions of suicide and sexual assault, the streaming giant relied on its “sophisticated, targeted recommendation algorithms” to “manipulate” viewers into watching the show, according to the complaint. The case alleges that rather than moderate its algorithm to “avoid targeting vulnerable children,” Netflix “dug its heels in for years, choosing a path of callous resistance to the realities of hundreds of children whose deaths Netflix had tortiously caused.”
In the “13 Reasons Why” novel, readers are taken through transcripts of audiotapes recorded by the main character, Hannah Baker, before her suicide. The transcripts, the suit shares, are addressed to other characters who Baker partially blames for causing her suicide. Netflix purchased the rights to adapt the book into a show and made several significant changes, the case says, describing a notable difference in pace between the book and show, the latter of which “demands that you listen to a suicide note for thirteen hours, while the suicide in question is built up as the grand climax,” the lawsuit cites.
According to the case, perhaps the most striking difference between the book and show is the manner in which Baker’s suicide is depicted. As opposed to the book, the Netflix adaption shows Baker’s death in “unflinching detail” in a three-minute scene that Netflix ultimately removed in July 2019 after significant public backlash, the lawsuit says. The case alleges, however, that Netflix pulled the troubling scene “[o]nly after hundreds of children died and after thousands were harmed.”
The lawsuit goes on to argue that although Netflix currently displays an advisory before the first episode of the first season of “13 Reasons Why,” the warning, dictated by actors in the series, includes “vague language that a reasonable person would think merely indicates mature subject matter, rather than a real risk of genuine harm.”
“Among other problems, this advisory does not warn that viewing the Show could itself cause suicide, suicidal ideation, etc.,” the complaint reads. “Instead, it merely suggests that there are mature themes depicted and that the presence of a trusted adult might be desirable. There is no clear indication of the foreseeable harms, rather than a suggestion that the themes may be emotional or psychologically difficult.”
The claims in the proposed class action were brought by the estate of a young California girl who died by suicide in April 2017. The lawsuit says the girl “fell victim to the very health risk that medical experts and suicide-prevention experts had warned Netflix about” with regard to “13 Reasons Why.”
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