After Kramer has a seizure during an episode of Entertainment Tonight, Elaine figures out that it’s the sound of Mary Hart’s voice that’s causing Kramer to have an epileptic fit. Can Kramer sue Entertainment Tonight or Mary Hart for causing his seizures?
While Seinfeld presents this scenario rather humorlessly, it is actually based on a real medical case from the early 90’s. Dr. Ramani wrote about the medical-episode in The New England Journal of Medicine, chronicling how a patient of his would become confused and delirious upon hearing Mary Hart’s voice. Hart’s voice would “set off the abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that mark an epileptic seizure” in his patient. The journal article also chronicled another woman who would have seizures at the sound of various male radio announcers.
Entertainment Tonight wasn’t only the show that caused seizures for some of its viewers. An infamous episode of the legendary anime show Pokemon entitled “Electric Soldier Porygon” caused over 600 children to be admitted into hospitals across Japan with symptoms of headaches and nausea when the episode aired. About 20 minutes into the episode, fan favorite Pikachu launched a thunderbolt during a battle with another pokemon, causing the screen to flash with blue and red bright lights. 200 hundred children had to stay in the hospital overnight.
While neither Dr. Ramani’s patient nor the children watching Pokemon filed suit, could Kramer? In order for Kramer to make out an assault claim against Entertainment Tonight, he would need to show that Kramer was harmed by the television program and that either it intended to cause harm to Kramer and it’s viewers, or that it should have reasonably known that Mary Hart’s voice would cause harm. Kramer could go to Dr. Ramani for a medical diagnosis that he is being harmed by Mary Hart’s voice, but he would likely have a lot of trouble proving that Entertainment Tonight either knew or should have known about the harm Hart’s voice would cause.
EDITORS NOTE: For a primer on the elements of what constitutes assault and causing someone injury, please see “The Understudy.”
However, in 2017, Kurt Eichenwald, a reporter for Vanity Fair went into an epileptic fit after someone tweeted at him a GIF with bright, flashing images and text stating “you deserve a seizure for your posts.” The tweeter knew that the reporter suffered from epilepsy. The tweeter was subsequently charged with aggravated assault. This is one of the first, if not the first, recorded incident of criminal prosecution for this type of behavior. Additionally, Eichenwald sued the tweeter for monetary damages. Both of Eichenwald’s cases are still pending (or at least I was unable to find any news of their resolutions). These, however, were clearly instances of a person intending to cause harm to another.
While these new cases give some indication that that had Kramer’s seizures happened in 2018 under slightly different circumstances, he may have been able to make out a case of assault, it still seems unlikely that Mary Hart could be liable for the simple fact that her voice caused Kramer to have a seizure.