A Florida judge has denied a motion brought by Brian Laundrie's parents to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Gabby Petito.
The ruling, issued Thursday by Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll, centers around an emotional distress lawsuit by Petito's parents, Nichole Schmidt and Joseph Petito. They are suing Laundrie's parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, for allegedly concealing their knowledge that their son had murdered Gabby.
If the Laundries did know at that time "that Gabby was dead, knowing the location of her body, and knowing that her parents were frantically looking for her ... then the Laundries' statement was particularly callous and cruel," the ruling states.
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had been road-tripping across the country in a van, documenting their travels on social media along the way, prior to her death. After Laundrie returned home on Sept. 1 without his 22-year-old fiancé, suspicion arose as to what might have happened, and her family reported her missing. Laundrie was named a person of interest but refused to answer police questions, and disappeared shortly before Petito's body was found. Laundrie killed himself soon after, having admitted to the murder in a notebook found near his body.
Petito's parents have accused the Laundries of knowing Brian had killed their daughter but withheld the information as they desperately searched for her. According to the lawsuit, Brian told his parents what he had done just a day after killing Gabby, at which point they allegedly hired an attorney and tried to make arrangements for him to flee the country. They also went on vacation, the lawsuit claims, and Laundrie's mother blocked Petito's mother on her phone.
The Laundries "knew of the mental suffering and anguish" the Petitos were going through "and knew that they could alleviate [it], at least in part ... by disclosing what they knew ... yet they repeatedly refused to do so," the lawsuit states.
The Laundries' attorney, Steve Bertolino, denied the claims made in the lawsuit, adding that they "had no obligation to speak to Law Enforcement or any third-party including the Petito family." They then moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it had been their "constitutional right not to speak when doing so could subject them to criminal penalties."
By ruling against the motion to dismiss Thursday, Carroll cleared the way for the Petitos' lawsuit to move forward. He pushed back against the Laundries' claims that they simply remained silent, citing a statement they issued through their lawyer saying they hoped the "search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family," despite allegedly already knowing she was dead.
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