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It’s funny until someone gets hurt: YouTube pranks and personal injury

Reality TV shows oriented around pranks have been entertaining us since the early days of Candid Camera. Today, YouTube is full of channels belonging to individuals who startle, frighten, or embarrass people to attract subscribers and increase their video view count. Many of these pranks are harmless, but occasionally they go too far, and victims get hurt.

This scenario appears to have happened last July when celebrity YouTuber Jake Paul made a video of himself and his friends driving through the streets of Los Angeles. He randomly beeped an unusually loud car horn to startle passers-by and get their reactions on film. One man was leaving a West Hollywood store when Paul sounded the horn and allegedly suffered hearing damage as a result. He subsequently took legal action against the social media star.

Not all YouTube pranks result in physical injury. People have been frightened by pranksters dressed as knife-wielding clowns, confronted by faux zombies and ghosts, and startled by statues that suddenly move towards them. Some have been traumatized, which can serve as the grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.

At one time, New York law only permitted emotional distress claims if the trauma arose from a physical injury. Now, courts throughout the state are compensating people for emotional distress that was not preceded by physical injury or even contact. It can be caused by reckless or intentional conduct, and many YouTuber actions arguably meet this definition.

Proving an emotional distress claim in New York requires the plaintiff to show that:

  • The defendant’s actions were both outrageous and extreme
  • This conduct caused the plaintiff to experience distress
  • The emotional distress that resulted was severe

There is a precedent for YouTube pranks being deemed emotionally distressing to the victims. Last year a Maryland couple was charged after viewers complained about the cruel jokes played on their children in their YouTube channel, DaddyOFive. The Martins created over 300 videos that showed them yelling at the children and blaming them for things they didn’t do, only to admit it was all a prank after the kids were crying and clearly in emotional distress. A Maryland judge found them guilty of child neglect and sentenced them to 10 years in prison, but suspended the sentences and ordered them to serve five years of supervised probation.

If anyone’s outrageous and reckless conduct caused you to be physically or emotionally traumatized, then a New York personal injury attorney may be able to help you prove the extent of your injuries and get the compensation you need. Holding pranksters accountable for their reckless actions sends the message that no joke is funny if it puts people at risk. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY personal injury lawyer. If someone else’s reckless behavior caused you harm, then set up a free in-person initial consultation. Home and hospital visits are available in the case of serious injury. Call 718-329-9500 to learn more.

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