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Brian Laundrie’s Family Lawyer Seeks 'Immunity' In Civil Suit Brought By Gabby Petito’s Parents
Attorney Steven Bertolino says his “expression of hope and prayer” in statements made on behalf of accused killer Brian Laundrie’s family regarding Gabby Petito’s whereabouts — shortly before her body was found — “was not reckless,” court documents state.
A lawyer for Brian Laundrie’s family is seeking the dismissal of an amended complaint filed by Gabby Petitio’s parents which accuses him of exacerbating their emotional distress in the aftermath of their daughter’s 2021 disappearance and murder.
Gabby Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, previously accused Brian Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, of issuing false and misleading statements through their attorney, Steven Bertolino, days before the missing 22-year-old New York woman’s body was discovered in Wyoming, according to case court documents obtained and reviewed by Oxygen.com.
Attorneys for Gabby Petito’s parents specifically accused the Laundries of having prior knowledge that their daughter was dead when Bertolino gave a Sept. 14, 2021 statement pertaining to the missing persons investigation, per court records.
At the time of the statement, issued prior to the discovery of Petito's remains, Bertolino’s words had appeared to be in solidarity with and in support of ongoing search efforts to locate her.
“It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” Bertolino said in 2021. “On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”
Initially, the complaint didn’t name Bertolino as a defendant, but has since been amended to include him due to his role in the statement’s public release. It's the second amended complaint that Bertolino's own attorney is seeking to dismiss.
Five days after that statement was made Petito’s body would be found in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. She’d been strangled to death.
Petito, who was reported missing on Sept. 11, had previously disappeared on a cross-country road trip with 23-year-old Laundrie weeks after an alleged domestic dispute the pair had weeks earlier in Moab, Utah, in which police were called.
Laundrie, who later returned to his home in Florida, ultimately shot and killed himself. His partial skeletal remains were found in a remote area of an environmental park on Oct. 20. Laundrie admitted to Petito’s slaying in a suicide note.
“I ended her life,” he wrote. “I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted, but I see now all the mistakes I made.”
Gabby Petito’s parents, meanwhile, have accused the family of their daughter’s suspected killer of knowing that Laundrie had already killed Petito — while continuing to make “insensitive, cold-hearted and outrageous” statements regarding Petito’s whereabouts. This, Petito’s lawyers have argued, is evidence that the Laundries, and Bertolino, acted in tandem to maliciously and purposefully further traumatize the grieving family.
“For the Laundries and Steven Bertolino to express their ‘hope’ that Gabrielle Petito was located and reunited with their family, at a time when they knew she had been murdered by Brian Laundrie was beyond outrageous,” lawyers for Petito’s family wrote in case filings.
On Monday, Bertolino’s own lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint before 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Danielle Brewer, according to Law and Crime. His attorneys argued that the Petito’s family’s claims that Bertolino played any role in inflicting further emotional distress is both flawed and misleading, as he was acting on his client's behalf.
“In the instant litigation, Plaintiffs allege they suffered emotional distress due to their now mistaken belief that their daughter may still be alive, or was still alive between September 14, 2021, and September 19, 2021,” the motion stated. “Implicitly, Plaintiffs claim they would not have suffered this emotional distress had they been affirmatively told on September 14, 2021, that their daughter had been murdered by Brian Laundrie and that her remains could be found at a specific location in Wyoming.”
Petito family’s suit also accuses the Laundries of refusing to disclose any knowledge they may have had regarding their daughter’s death.
“[I]t is important to note both the Laundries and Mr. Bertolino are being sued for statements made and not made,” court records added. “Such highlights the difficult situation faces by individuals like the Laundries who (in the Second Amended Complaint) are being portrayed as callous and cruel for both not responding and for the words they chose to use when responding.”
Both parties previously reached a $3 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit, Tampa Bay ABC affiliate WWSB reported.
The motion concluded by arguing that Bertolino had acted in a “legally permissible way” — and legally wasn’t culpable due to his statements being made at the behest of and “in connection with [Bertolino’s] representation of the Laundrie family.”
“The ‘four corners’ of the Second Amended Complaint do not establish a viable cause of action against Mr. Bertolino under Florida law,” the motion said. “The purported conduct at issue is not outrageous. The statements at issue were benign on their face and not made with any intent to cause the Plaintiffs harm. The expression of hope and prayer was not reckless.”
A jury trial in the matter is expected to get underway on Aug. 14, per court filings.