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Sanders v. Acclaim Entertainment

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Citation Edit

Sanders v. Acclaim Entertainment, Inc., 188 F.Supp.2d 1264 (D. Colo. 2002) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

In the wake of the tragic killings at Columbine High School, families of the victims have tried to make sense out of what seems senseless. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris — the students who committed the terrible crime — were fans of the movie "The Basketball Diaries" and of violent videogames. And that, the victims' families have said, is the explanation for what happened. The family of at least one of the victims has alleged that the killings were caused by those who made the movie and the videogames.

These allegations were made in negligence and products liability lawsuit filed by the widow and stepchildren of William David Sanders, the Columbine High School teacher who was killed during the 1999 rampage.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

Though their complaint was well thought out, federal District Judge Lewis Thornton Babcock dismissed it "for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted."

In a methodical and well-analyzed opinion, Judge Thornton concluded that the movie and videogame companies owed no duty to Sanders' widow and children because it was not foreseeable that Klebold and Harris' violent actions were "the likely consequence of exposure to videogames or movies," and because "there is social utility in expressive and imaginative forms of entertainment even if they contain violence."

Moreover, the judge held that even if the movie and videogame companies did owe Sanders' widow and children a duty, "Harris' and Klebold's intentional violent acts were the superseding cause of Mr. Sanders' death," and "no reasonable jury could find that [the companies'] conduct resulted in Mr. Sanders' death in the natural and probable sequence of events." For these reasons, Judge Babcock granted the companies' motion to dismiss the negligence claim against them.

Judge Babcock also dismissed the family's products liability claim. He did so, because he ruled that the "intangible thoughts, ideas, and expressive content" in "The Basketball Diaries" and videogames "are not 'products' as contemplated by the strict liability doctrine." What's more, the judge added, even if the claims were valid as a matter of tort law, both would run afoul of the First Amendment.

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