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Game blamed for murder, $100 million lawsuit likely

The family of a man shot by two boys emulating the action of Grand Theft Auto, the popular but violent video game, plan to sue the game's publishers and the family's lawyer this week warned that it could become a class action suit.26 Sep 2003

The anticipated $100 million lawsuit follows the murder of Aaron Hamel, a 45 year-old nurse who just happened to be driving by when 16 year-old William Buckner and his brother Joshua, 14, started firing on vehicles driving on a Tennessee freeway.

Mr Hamel was killed and another person severely injured in the incident. The boys later explained to police that they had been bored, so decided to act out Grand Theft Auto. Their confession prompted the Hamel family to sue publishers Take-Two Interactive.

Jack Thompson, the family's lawyer, has a history of appearing in video game lawsuits and, according to the BBC, last year lost a claim against the makers of Doom and Quake over the deaths of three students shot by a fellow pupil at their school in Kentucky.

In discussing the case earlier this month, Thompson told BBC News Online, "Nobody is saying that a video game by itself can turn someone into a mass killer". He went on, "But the law is that if you make a product that is linked in a chain of events, and but for that link the final tragedy would not have occurred, you are liable. You don't have to have little angels turned into killers."

Thompson has now upped the ante. According to The Register, Thompson said in a statement this week:

"In the past few days I have been contacted by dozens of other people, and there may be hundreds more cases. This will send a message that they have to stop this practice or there will be other suits on behalf of other people, killed by these games."

A class action may well be on its way. Whether it will succeed or not is another matter – such cases have failed before.

Douglas Lowenstein, President of the Entertainment Software Association, told BBC News Online:

"While video games may provide a simple excuse for the teenagers involved in this incident, responsibility for violent acts belongs to those who commit them."

He added:

"Given the science and given the fact that these teenagers had unsupervised access to shotguns and made the decision to fire them on innocent motorists, blaming video games is misguided and counterproductive."