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1st hearing Wednesday in Petito family lawsuit against Brian Laundrie's parents: What to know

The pretrial hearing could have a judge decide whether the case will proceed to a jury trial.

VENICE, Fla. — On Wednesday, the Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie case will reach court for the first time.

A pre-trial hearing is the first order of business in the lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito's family against the parents of Brian Laundrie. It begins at 1:30 p.m. in Sarasota County Circuit Court in Venice.

Judge Hunter W. Carroll will determine if the lawsuit will proceed to a jury trial next year after hearing arguments from both sides.

Last September, Gabby was reported missing while she was on a cross-country road trip with Brian, her fiancé. She already had an online presence, posting vlogs of her life while traveling in a van. Her disappearance garnered national attention

Gabby's body was found later that month in Bridger-Teton National Forest. It was later confirmed she was killed.

On Sept. 23, an arrest warrant was issued for Brian in connection to the case. At the end of October, his remains were found at Carlton Reserve. Laundrie was the only person of interest identified by the FBI in the homicide of Gabby Petito. 

The lawsuit explained

Joe Petito and Nicole Schmidt, parents of Gabby, filed a lawsuit against the Laundries citing "intentional infliction of emotional distress." In an amended complaint, the Petito family claims the Laundries knew Brian murdered their daughter.

The complaint reads that the Laundries were advised by Brian that he had murdered Gabby on Aug. 28 and on that same date, they spoke with Attorney Steve Bertolino. The lawsuit also claims that Brian's parents assisted in him fleeing.

"While Gabrielle Petito's family was suffering, the Laundrie family went on vacation to Ford DeSoto Park on September 6-7. They went on vacation knowing that Brian Laundrie had murdered Gabrielle Petito, it is believed they knew where her body was located, and further knew that Gabrielle Petito's parents were attempting to locate her," the amended complaint read. 

It is claimed that Roberta blocked Nichole on her cell phone and Facebook in September in an attempt to avoid contact with the mother.

In response, the Laundrie family's attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint – calling it baseless. There is no law creating a duty for the Laundries to communicate with anybody. 

"The basis of the complaint is that Chris and Roberta Laundrie did not communicate with the Petito family, and that's it," Attorney Steven Bertolino said. "Since there is no duty and no good Samaritan Law, which requires anybody to communicate with a third party regardless of the circumstances, there's no basis in the law for which the complaint should have been filed."

While the lawsuit currently does not provide evidence to back up the claims, the attorney representing the Petito family, Patrick Reilly, said they can be proved. However, the claims don't have to be proved yet. Wednesday, the judge just looks at what is in the complaint to render his decision, Reilly said.

"We think there's more than sufficient evidence in the complaint to establish the claim that we're making," Reilly said. "We think that the Laundries engaged in a course of conduct after they were told by their son that he had murdered Gabby Petito. We think what they did is outrageous and caused harm to the Petitos."

In May, the lawsuit's list of witnesses was revealed. This list consists of who the plaintiffs are seeking testimony from.

Listed in the witness document are:

  • Joseph Petito (Gabby's father)
  • Nichole Schmidt (Gabby's mother)
  • Tara Petito (Gabby's stepmother)
  • James Schmidt (Gabby's stepfather)
  • Christopher Laundrie (Brian's father)
  • Roberta Laundrie (Brian's mother)
  • Representatives of the FBI
  • Representatives of the North Port Police Department

What are the potential outcomes of Wednesday's hearing?

This hearing is focused on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Judge Hunter Carroll can either make a decision, ask the parties to have an oral argument or ask the parties to submit additional memoranda — documents that summarize and analyze relevant laws to support a conclusion, Bertolino said. 

Or the judge could simply take all of the information and adjourn the case; issuing a decision at a later time. 

If the motion to dismiss is denied, Bertolino said they will file an appeal.

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