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Watters v. TSR

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Citation Edit

Watters v. TSR, Inc., 904 F.2d 378 (6th Cir. 1990) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Plaintiff, Sheila Watters, brought suit against Defendant, TSR, Inc. (“TSR”), a game publishing company, for wrongful death of her son. TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons game is one in which the players assume the roles of characters in adventures, which set in an imaginary ancient world narrated by a player known as the Dungeon Master. The rules of the game do not call for the physical acting out of any role. There is no indication that the game's materials glorify or encourage suicide, or even mention it.

Mrs. Watters claimed that her son was an avid player of the game, and that it came to dominate his mind to such an extent that he was driven to suicide. She claimed that TSR violated a duty of care in publishing and distributing the game materials and that TSR violated a duty to warn that the game could cause psychological harm in fragile-minded children. She also claimed that her son's death, which was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, was a direct and proximate result of TSR's alleged wrong-doing.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

TSR filed a motion for summary judgment based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments and on familiar principles of tort law. TSR argued that the game is privileged under the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. In the alternative, TSR argued that it owed no duty to Watter's son and that the suicide was an intervening superseding cause of death, breaking the chain of causation. The trial court granted TSR's motion on First Amendment grounds but did not reach any of the state law issues.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The appellate court held that TSR was not negligent in disseminating the game to "mentally fragile" people, that TSR breached no duty to warn, and the son's suicide was an intervening cause of his death. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment.

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