Legal Consequences Of A Prank

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - When can you be held liable when a prank you play leads to tragic consequences?

Two Australian disc jockeys called the hospital where Kate Middleton was recovering and, pretending to be the Queen, asked about Kate’s condition. A nurse at the hospital fell for it, and released information. Kate recovered; Prince Charles joked about it. But the nurse committed suicide in the wake of the prank. If this had been done in the US, could the djs have faced criminal charges?

A Rutgers student committed suicide after he found he’d been videotaped by his roommate during a romantic encounter with another male – and his roommate went to jail for it. But that case was different. There, the roommate was not charged with contributing to the suicide but with bias intimidation as a hate crime. In the DJ’s case theres no indication at all that the person who picked up the phone was a target of the prank at all or that the djs meant any harm. They didn’t have to be mean-spirited to be held liable, but in this case, there was really no way that the djs should have known that their actions would be likely to lead to tragic consequences.

That said, perhaps a better question than “could I be held liable for this prank I’m pulling” in life if not in law should be: “how would I feel if I were on the receiving end of this, instead of the giving end?”

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