Flash Gordon Inflicts Emotional Distress All Around

Get Ready to Kick Some Flash

That’s right.  The slogan for Flash Gordon, the epically bad 1980 sci fi movie, was actually “Get ready to kick some Flash.”  That alone causes me emotional distress.  Shouldn’t Flash be the one doing the kicking – not the one being kicked?  And that was the best slogan they could come up with?  That’s the slogan my son would have picked!

Flash GordonAs a kid I never saw the Flash Gordon movie, but we had the book version of the movie (I have no idea why) and I loved pouring over the pictures of Ming the Merciless, the bizarre birdmen, and the women in beautiful dresses.  (I was a kid and we only had CBS – I was pretty hard up for entertainment!).


My baby brother, however, is fascinated with the movie and insisted that I watch it with him over the holidays this year and I was blown away by how fantastically awful it is (the soundtrack by Queen is its only redeeming quality).  Surely Mystery Science Theater 3000 spoofed it, right?  The hero who can defeat the bad guys if he has a football-shaped object in his hands.  The evil overlord with a ring of seducton.  The comically slow battle between the spaceship and the feeble bird men.  I’m just impressed that Timothy Dalton was able to overcome that movie and go on to become Bond (for a little while).

(No need to watch the entire movie – the trailer is much better…)

So while the comic strip was good enough to inspire Star Wars, the movie version was awful.  But a bad movie isn’t grounds for a lawsuit (unless you’re one of the financial backers).  One scene in the movie, however, is similar to an issue that’s come up in lawsuits several times.  In a handy plot twist, Flash Gordon is executed by order of Ming and poor Dale has to watch him die.  Later, of course, it turns out that Flash’s death was faked and he still lived!  So the question becomes, could Dale sue somebody for believing her loved one was dead?

She could – although she probably wouldn’t win.  Over the years people have sued for the distress they suffered when informed that loved ones had died when, in fact, their loved ones hadn’t died.  These suits have met with mixed success.

In one suit, where parents were informed that their teenage daughter had died in a car crash, the Kansas Supreme Court held they couldn’t recover because they couldn’t show that the emotional distress they suffered was solely because of the mistake about the daughter’s death.  Instead, the distress may have also been caused by the accident itself and their daughter’s problems afterwards.  See Hoard v. Shawnee Mission Medical Center,  233 Kan. 267, 278, 662 P.2d 1214, 1222 (Kan.,1983).

On the other hand, a New York court allowed a daughter to recover for the emotional distress suffered when a hospital  mistakenly told her that her mother had died.  The key to the court’s liability in that case, however, was the hospital’s duty to advise the proper next of kin of the death of a patient.  See Johnson v. State,  37 N.Y.2d 378, 379-380, 334 N.E.2d 590, 59, 372 N.Y.S.2d 638, 639 (N.Y. 1975).

In all of the sitautions, however, the suit has to be brought by an immediate family member.  While Dale clearly had strong feelings for Flash, they weren’t even dating, much less married or otherwise related.  So Dale, like the rest of us, is out of luck.  We all suffered emotional distress watching Flash Gordon (or, in her case, watching Flash “die”), but we can’t sue anybody for the pain we suffered.


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Jessica has been litigating business and IP disputes for the past decade. During that time, she’s dealt with clients, lawyers, and judges who have varying degrees of appreciation for the challenges of managing discovery in an electronic age. Until the fall of 2011, she was an attorney at a large, Texas-based law firm, where she represented clients in state and federal court nationwide. That fall, she made a long-desired move back to the Midwest and is now a partner at Hansen Reynolds Dickinson Crueger LLC, a litigation boutique based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she continues to litigate while also consulting with business and law firms on e-discovery issues (before, during, and after litigation arises).