Judge rules in Netflix’s favour over suicide of teen who watched 13 Reasons Why

·2 min read

A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit against Netflix over the alleged suicide of a teen after watching 13 Reasons Why.

In August last year, John Herndon sued the OTT entertainment company, claiming his 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.

On Tuesday (11 January), US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled in favour of the streaming service – despite the tragedy that had occurred – citing protection of free speech.

“I just don’t think the lawsuit survives,” Judge Rogers said.

The controversial drama series – that ended in 2020 after four seasons – centres around17-year-old Hannah Baker who dies by suicide, leaving behind 13 tapes for 13 different people she believed were instrumental in her decision.

In December 2021, Netflix’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss Herndon’s lawsuit, writing: “Creators obligated to shield certain viewers from expressive works depicting suicide would inevitably censor themselves to avoid the threat of liability.”

In Tuesday’s hearing, however, Herndon’s attorney Ryan Hamilton argued that his client’s class action suit was not about the show’s content but rather Netflix’s algorithms.

Hamilton said: “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 was warned about.”

Following its release in March 2017, 13 Reasons Why was widely criticised by mental health organisations over a graphic, three-minute long suicide scene in the show’s season one finale.

Two years later, Netflix decided to take “the advice of medical experts” and revise the episode. The scene in question has not been available to watch on Netflix since July 2019.

A study conducted by researchers from the Medical University of Vienna found that suicide deaths among 10 to 19 year olds in the US rose by 13 per cent, in the three months after 13 Reasons Why was released on Netflix.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.