A Florida judge ruled Thursday that the family of Gabby Petito may proceed with a civil lawsuit against Brian Laundrie’s parents, whom they say caused them emotional distress by hiding that their son had killed their daughter last year on a van trip across America.
Judge Hunter Carroll of the 12th Circuit Court of Florida ruled on the matter after Chris and Roberta Laundrie, Brian’s parents, requested that the lawsuit seeking damages of at least $100,000 be thrown out, saying they had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or the Petito family about what happened.
Though that may be true, Carroll ruled, the Petito family may still seek damages over the comments the family did make.
“If the facts of this case were truly about silence with no affirmative action by the Laundries, the court would have resolved this case in the Laundries’ favor on the concept of legal duty, or more precisely, the lack of legal duty for the Laundries to act,” Carroll wrote in his decision. “Had the Laundries truly stayed silent, the court would have granted the motion to dismiss in the Laundries’ favor. But they did not stay silent.”
He emphasized a statement the Laundries released on Sept. 14, 2021 ― more than two weeks after Gabby was strangled to death and days before authorities found her body in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. The Petitos allege in their lawsuit that Brian Laundrie, who killed himself after he returned to Florida, had already told his parents about killing Petito at the time they released the remarks.
The statement read: “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.”
If the Laundries did in fact know at the time that their son had killed the Petitos’ daughter, Carroll wrote, “then the Laundries’ statement was particularly callous and cruel, and it is sufficiently outrageous to state claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The Laundrie family’s lawyer, Steven Bertolino, said in a statement that his clients “are disappointed with Judge Carroll’s decision to deny the motion and allow this lawsuit to proceed.”
Patrick Reilly, a lawyer for the Petito family, said his clients are “appreciative of the thorough and well-reasoned decision” by Carroll and are hopeful a trial will uncover “any correspondence, emails and texts exchanged during the difficult period when Gabby’s whereabouts were unknown.”
Carroll’s ruling comes a week after the Laundrie family’s lawyer released a copy of the handwritten pages from a notebook in which their 23-year-old son confessed to killing Petito, his 22-year-old fiancée with whom he was on an extended, multi-state road trip last summer, which they were documenting on social media. He claimed in the notebook that she had sustained injuries while they were in the wilderness and that he “thought it was merciful” to end her life.
After the events described in the notebook, Laundrie returned home to Florida alone and spent several days with his family before embarking on a hike in a nearby wilderness area and taking his own life with a gun. Authorities found his body in October.
Investigators have not released any findings showing that Petito suffered from any serious injuries aside from strangulation. Her family said last week that the claims in the notebook are “nonsense.”