SAN FRANCISCO — In light of the recent ModelMayhem.com opinion by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a Nevada woman who was nearly killed by her online date can pursue “failure to warn” claims against dating site Match.com.
Thursday’s ruling involves plaintiff Mary Beckman, who was stabbed 10 times and stomped on by her Match.com date, Wade Ridley. Beckman had been left for dead and required numerous surgeries to repair her jaw, remove part of her skull and preserve her eyesight and hearing.
A three-judge panel with the 9th Circuit on Thursday said the case against Match.com should be remanded to the district court, ruling Beckman should have a chance to prove that Match.com knew Ridley had been paired with and attacked others using its platform.
The 9th Circuit based its ruling on its recent ModelMayhem.com decision. In that case, the court held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act did not bar civil claims made by a woman who was drugged, raped and filmed after she was lured to a bogus casting call on ModelMayhem.
Under the CDA websites are not liable for information posted on their sites by third parties.
But the appeals court said actual knowledge of foreseeable harms is a much different matter, since statutes provide that defendants such as ModelMayhem.com and Match.com have a duty to warn in such instances.
"In [the ModelMayhem case], we held that at the pleading stage, the CDA did not preclude a plaintiff from alleging a state law failure-to-warn claim against a website owner who had obtained information from an outside source about how third parties targeted and lured victims' through that website platform," the 9th Circuit ruled in Thursday’s unpublished decision.
"Importantly, [the ModelMayhem] claim did not seek to impose liability for the website owner's role as a 'publisher or speaker' of third-party content, for its failure to remove that content, or for its failure to monitor third-party content on its website," the court decided.
"At oral argument, Beckman's counsel represented that if granted leave to amend, Beckman could allege that Match had actual knowledge that Ridley had identified and attacked other women using Match's service prior to his attack on Beckman."
The 9th Circuit said that in light of the ModelMayhem ruling, Beckman should have the opportunity to cure deficiencies in the case and air her failure-to-warn claim.
Ridley, the Match.com date, was convicted of killing an ex-girlfriend in Phoenix. He died in prison a year before Beckman sued Match.com for $10 million.
Ridley also had a lengthy criminal history prior to the murder, including arrests in 1992, after he tried to commit suicide by police officer, in 1999 for domestic violence and in 2001 for battery.
The ModelMayhem case, which spurred Thursday’s ruling in Beckman’s case against Match.com, attracted the attention of numerous internet companies that have said the decision opens the door for lawsuits against or have a “detrimental chilling effect” on internet services providers.
The case, industry experts tell XBIZ, has a good shot at being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.