A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Netflix from the family of a teenager who alleged her suicide was triggered by watching 13 Reasons Why.
In the lawsuit filed in August 2021, John Herndon said viewers were not adequately warned about the show’s content related to suicide. He claimed his 15-year-old daughter Bella had “died as a result of the tortious acts and omissions of Netflix that caused, or at least substantially contributed to, her suicide” in April 2017.
US District Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers has since ruled that Netflix cannot be sued over recommending the show to viewers, citing a law which allows the dismissal of cases that infringe upon protected speech.
“This is a tragic case,” Gonzales Rogers said. “But ultimately, I don’t think that it survives.”
The show, which concluded in 2020 after four seasons, revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who dies by suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes for different people she believed led to her decision.
The show’s season one finale was widely criticised by mental health organisations over a graphic, three-minute long suicide scene. Netflix added a warning card in March 2018, a year after its release, which plays at the start of each season, and later removed the scene altogether in July 2019.
In November 2021, Netflix filed a motion to dismiss Herndon’s lawsuit, believing it would lead to the censorship of other creative works which depict teenage suicide – citing the likes of Dead Poets Society, Dear Evan Hansen and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
Lawyers for Netflix wrote: “Creators obligated to shield certain viewers from expressive works depicting suicide would inevitably censor themselves to avoid the threat of liability. This would dampen the vigour and limit the variety of public debate.”
In Tuesday’s (January 11) hearing, however, Herndon’s attorney Ryan Hamilton argued his client’s class action lawsuit was not about the show’s content, but the streaming platform’s algorithms.
“What this case is about is the private targeting of vulnerable children and consequences that were not only foreseeable and were foreseen but that Netflix has warned about,” Hamilton said.
In response to this argument, the judge said it was impossible to “disassociate and untangle the content of that show” from the claims in the complaint. The judge ordered Hamilton to respond by January 18 in regards to whether he wants to file an amended complaint.
NME has reached out to Netflix for comment.
Katherine Langford, who played Hannah Baker in the series, has since described playing the character as “the hardest first role to have for a number of reasons”.
For help and advice on mental health:
- ‘Am I depressed?‘ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
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