(CN) – A widow whose husband’s suicide capped off a high-speed car chase that Fox News televised live is not entitled to damages, an Arizona appeals court ruled.
JoDon Romero stole a car at gunpoint in Phoenix and led police on an 80-mile chase, sometimes firing his gun at the pursuing officers.
Fox News picked up the live broadcast from its local affiliate and aired the chase on an episode of Studio B with Shepard Smith.
Usually, Fox employs a short delay that allows it to cut away from a violent scene. It did not do so in this case, however, so a national audience saw Romero end the chase by shooting himself in the head.
Romero’s three children were in school at the time. The two older boys heard about a suicide video and looked it up on YouTube, only to see their own father kill himself.
Their mother, Angela Rodriguez, sued Fox in 2013 for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She claimed that her children were severely traumatized by the video.
A Maricopa County judge dismissed the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, however, and a panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed for Fox last week.
“The Fox broadcast clearly addressed a matter of public concern,” Judge Diane Johnsen wrote for the court on Aug. 4.
Though Rodriguez conceded that the chase was newsworthy, she argued that the suicide was a private matter not covered by the First Amendment.
Johnson noted that Smith “apologized at the time for failing to cut away before the suicide, and on appeal, Fox expresses regret over the incident.”
“But no authority supports Rodriguez’ argument that a broadcast whose ‘overall thrust and dominant theme’ is a matter of public concern loses its First Amendment protection if a broadcaster does not terminate a broadcast when it suspects violence may occur, or fails to use a tape delay to prevent airing a violence scene after it has occurred,” the ruling concludes.
Romero’s sister, Nature Romero, also sued Fox in 2013, claiming that she was severely traumatized by watching the incident.
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