OCALA, Fla. (CN) – A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing CNN and host Nancy Grace of driving one of their guests to commit suicide by ambushing her with questions insinuating that she may have murdered her missing 2-year-old son. U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges rejected the defendants’ argument that the wrongful-death action brought by the estate of Melinda Duckett would “severely chill” journalists’ coverage of similar cases.
Duckett, 21, appeared on the “Nancy Grace” show after her son, Trenton, went missing in August 2006. In a phone interview with Duckett on Sept. 7, the host “verbally badgered” Duckett, accusing her of hiding something because she refused to take a lie-detector test, Duckett’s family claimed.
The family said Duckett killed herself hours before the show aired, under severe emotional distress from the notion that she had something to do with her son’s disappearance.
Grace aired the interview that evening and replayed it several times in the following weeks.
Hodges said the plaintiffs made sufficient claims for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as Grace’s actions could easily be seen as “outrageous, particularly in light of the fact that the Defendants were aware of Ms. Duckett’s precarious emotional and mental state.”
The judge also upheld the plaintiffs’ claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Duckett’s parents and a minor sibling, since Florida courts have made allowance for the emotional vulnerability of survivors.