Mass. Case Raises Question of the Reasonable Sadomasochist

As a torts case, it certainly does not get stranger than a case filed in Lynn, Mass.

Adrian Exley came from England to engage in sadomasochism with Gary LeBlanc, a 48-year-old Gulf Oil sales executive that he met on a sadomasochism Web site. At Exley’s request he was wrapped tightly in heavy plastic, bound with duct tape; a leather hood put over his head, and a thin plastic straw inserted so that he could breathe. He was then shut up in the closet. This was part of a three-day bondage and discipline session that also involved a third man, Scott Vincent. Exley died after the straw fell out and the two men disposed of his body. LeBlanc later committed suicide and admitted to the whole affair in detail.
Exley’s family is now suing LeBlanc family and Vincent. They admit that this was a consensual act and that Exley wanted to be treated in this fashion as a “slave” to LeBlanc as “master.”

It has been a long-standing principle that consent vitiates intent. Put another way, the common law holds that “the volunteer suffers no wrong.” The jury will have to decide whether intentional tort or negligence is actionable under these circumstances. Certainly false imprisonment seems difficult since that was the very purpose of the encounter. The common law will sometimes ignore consent for acts that violate the law or public policy. However, treating someone in this fashion is not unlawful. The resulting holding could create some interesting law. Sensational facts aside, the case raises questions of personal responsibility and consent for dangerous pursuits. People are increasingly drawn to dangerous or even sexually violent activities. It certainly pushes the limits of negligence. What a reasonable sadomasochistic person would do is hardly an easy jury instruction to write. For the full story, click here

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