Brian Laundrie’s family claimed they can’t be held civilly liable for “silence” and asked a court on Wednesday to toss a lawsuit which accused them of hindering the search for Gabby Petito.
The Laundries shouldn’t be made to pay because they shunned publicity or communication with plaintiffs, defense lawyer Matthew Luka wrote.
“As a matter of law, the Laundries’ silence (conduct) could not form the basis of a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress,” according to Luka.
“If the Laundries’ ‘act’ of doing nothing, other than maintaining their privacy and silence, is enough to subject them to this supposed cause of action then there would be virtually no limitations on the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the fundamental right to remain silent under any circumstances would be obliterated.”
Last month, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt said the defendants “knew of the mental suffering and anguish” they were experiencing while their daughter was missing but refused to disclose information about her whereabouts. And in doing so, they “acted with malice or great indifference,” according to the lawsuit.
While the defense said it’s sympathetic to the emotional pain Petito’s loved ones must still be suffering, Laundrie’s parents said they can’t be held responsible for it.
“The Plaintiffs were understandably fearful about what happened to their daughter and they would have been upset about their daughter regardless of anything the Laundries could have said,” according to Luka.
“But that fear or sadness was not caused by the Laundries — it was an unfortunate, unavoidable part of the entire circumstances surrounding Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito.”
An aspiring social media influencer, Gabby Petito went missing on a cross-country trip with Brian Laundrie, her boyfriend, and the saga filled newspaper pages and cable TV newscasts for weeks this past summer.
Brian Laundrie’s body was found in Florida, a month later. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot and left notes saying he was responsible for Petito’s death, officials have said.
An attorney for Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.