Is The Movie “Breaking Dawn” Harmful To Your Health? Foundation Issues Seizure Warning To Potential Moviegoers

There is an interesting potential tort lawsuit in the making in the movie “Breaking Dawn.” The Maryland-based Epilepsy Foundation issued a warning on Facebook to roughly 11,000 followers that the movie may cause seizures and should be avoided for those prone to certain types of seizures.

Mimi Carter, the foundation’s director of communications wrote “If you were parents of a child with epilepsy, you would not send your child to the movie. Why would you risk it?”

That leads to two questions. First, whether the movie production company can be sued for negligence or failure to warn. Second, could the company sue the foundation or Carter for product disparagement or defamation (against the producers in a per quod action).

On the first question, there have been nine reported cases of seizures during the film and the company is now aware of thousands of people receiving warnings from the foundation. The most obvious claim of negligence arises in the use of strobe effects with flashes of red, white, and black. Previous television shows and movies have been alerted to the same problem. Applying the Hand formula (B<PL), it would seem a small burden (b) and a rather high (l) even though the reaction remains relatively unlikely given the numbers of movie watchers. In addition, there is the question of whether the movie producers tested the film to determine the potential for such a reaction. This was the case it appears with the Japanese cartoon Pocket Monsters that sent a reported 700 people to the hospital. As noted in Weirum v. RKO General, “foreseeability . . . is a primary consideration in establishing the element of duty.”

There is the separate issue of the need for a warning when such effects are used. Under the Third Restatement, a warning defect occurs “because of inadequate instructions or warnings when the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings … and the omission of the instructions or warnings renders the product not reasonably safe.”

There is also the question of a design defect as a movie that is, under the test of 402A of the Second Restatement, more dangerous than “the reasonable expectations of the ordinary consumer”. Various sites discuss how an estimated 5% of those with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy. What is interesting is that the rate of photosensitive epilepsy is higher in children and young people. This would make the likelihood greater in films with larger audiences of young people. Yet, a film would appear closer to a service than a product for the purposes of strict liability. This would leave negligence.

The interesting aspect of this allegation is that it goes to a special effect — not the content as with prior lawsuits against films like Natural Born Killers. Lawsuit on the storyline or content run into serious first amendment problems. Moreover, there remains the tough question of proximate cause and the superseding intervening acts of others. Here the movie elected to use strobe effects with the knowledge that there are some audience members who could respond in seizures.

While hyper-sensitive consumers are usually required to protect themselves, they have little ability to do so without a warning. Moreover with the strobe effect, the rate of the flashing and its colors can be easily adjusted to avoid such responses, it appears. This could make for an interesting lawsuit.

What do you think?

Source: Baltimore Sun

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14 thoughts on “Is The Movie “Breaking Dawn” Harmful To Your Health? Foundation Issues Seizure Warning To Potential Moviegoers”

  1. i’m an epileptic. there should be warnings on movies/tv shows (just as they have warnings on video games) for those that use effects that may cause seizures. Clearly if we can put warnings on video games, we are well aware what effects can cause seizures. Countless other movies use effects where there should be epilepsy warnings, however we are not that far yet with the laws.

    I’m glad i didn’t let my gf bring me to this movie – apparently it would’ve put me in the hospital, and there is nothing more to discuss other than that.

  2. i went to see Breaking Dawn November 20th and had to be taken out by ambulance to an emergency room after the birthing scene. I thought I was going to die and called 911.

  3. Having had migraines since early childhood I have known that flashing lights and strobe effects often trigger my migraine. Its not just any flashing but has to be certain frequencies and its not just one frequency. I have however learned a good trick to avoid the flashing triggered migraines (which often are more severe than some triggered by other things). The wonderful trick is to close my eyes and cover them with my hands so as to close off ALL light for the duration of the flashing. I will usually say to my companion “is it over” I don’t know about the effects on epilepsy but a flash or three won’t trigger me. But by the fourth flash no light can reach my eyes.
    As a migraineur I know my triggers and to avoid all the ones I am aware of and can possibly keep away from. The bad thing is that you can not always avoid. The one flashing that is next to impossible to avoid is fluorescent lights. The light in good working order is fine but as they begin to go down hill they begin to flash at the dangerous frequency and to most people it is barely noticeable that the light is malfunctioning. And they can flash at this frequency for a long long time before it fails even more and passes through the bad frequency. A fluorescent light may hit another bad frequency during its demise if it is not changed. Many people are not bothered by this flashing until the flashes are very slow and very noticeable. By that time I will have suffered months of flash induced

    I had a boss once bitch at me for asking for the light to be fixed when “there’s hardly anything wrong with it”

    I made a voodoo doll of her and stuck pins in her temples and eyes every night.

    Voodoo Is fake!!!

  4. I think any specifically designed effect which proximately produces an adverse health condition on foreseeable users should include an adequate and effective warning. Absent that warning, the creator of the effect pays in damages.

  5. Never heard a peep about this when “Flashdance” came out back in the 80s, but if liability is going to attach for these types of sequences then Paramount will need to start adding warnings to the DVD & Blu-Ray copies – check out this clip from the movie at 2:20 on.

  6. Hmmmm, the protagonist side says to go and come back and report the side affects…..

  7. If not seizures, how about migraines? My DH simply cannot watch some kinds of film sequences. The hysterical jump-cutting mentioned by Frankly makes him nauseous. He won’t be able to watch the Transformers 3 movie until we get it at home where we can slow or stop action to break the jumping up as needed. He has just heard of this flicker vertigo and is wondering if that is why he cannot “do” planetarium displays without becoming violently ill — thanks for that concept! Hasn’t been able to do planetarium shows since high school, just before when his migraines started.

  8. This warning is just another reason not to see the movie.

    Something many folks may not know; there is a phenomenon called “flicker vertigo” caused by light flickering at certain frequencies. This is not a seizure, but horrible vertigo. Flickering at that speed can (and has) caused seizures, but flicker vertigo is another very nasty side effect. The victim becomes disoriented and horribly nauseated.

    My first encounter with flicker vertigo happened when landing into the sun many years ago when I throttled the engine back to idle. The strobe effect from the slowed propeller passing through the sun was about as funny as a large dose of Syrup of Ipecac.

  9. Maybe its just because I am really old but it seems to me the hyper-rapid cuts that substitute for skill and story telling in todays ‘action’ shows is bound to hit a point where it will cause seizures eventually. If there is some combination that makes it more likely its still just a matter of time.

  10. What about seizures induced by bad acting and turgid storytelling? These films have the potential to impact a much larger segment of society due to that phenomena.

  11. OT:

    How about some big negligence (CO2 up 20% over 20 yrs):

    These two new results offer a stark message. Human carbon emissions are certainly disturbing the climate system upon which we depend, and in spite of the economic slowdown, and despite all the efforts by governments, businesses and people to reduce them, our emissions are reaching new highs. The climatic consequences, already emerging, will grow over time, and are irreversible.”

    (Paper published in Nature: Climate Change)

    This movie is called “Breaking Down” … talk about seizures.

  12. I cannot imagine someone thinking initially,” I wonder if this special effect could cause a seizure?” Now that they know, not imagining it and doing something, as a non lawyer, I would think is negligence on it’s face; but the movie goers now also know, so they too would be hegligent in choosing to see the movie. My question: What about those who do not know they have seizure disorder or propensity towards seizure? They are not negligent . I would think it would fall on the producer’s if they do not change the effect.
    Wonder about a warning. Would many think a warning about potential for neuro problems be mostly ignored, considered just ‘hype’?

  13. There needs to be a similar warning concerning the Republican Primary debates moderated by The Donald.

    It could make some people ill.

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