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Ethan Liming Family Attorney Considering a Lawsuit Against TikTok and Toy-Gun Manufacturer After Teen’s Death (News Channel 5)



Originally published on News Channel 5 Cleveland, July 28, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — The family of Ethan Liming is considering a lawsuit against social media platform TikTok.

Ethan, a rising senior and football and baseball player at the Firestone School in Akron, was found beaten to death near the basketball courts of the I PROMISE School on Thursday, June 2.

According to investigators, Ethan was with a group of friends and at least one of them fired a toy gun— a SplatRBall Water Bead Blaster— around 10:45 p.m. at the men who were playing basketball on the courts.

Detectives said that led to a fight and Ethan was repeatedly punched and kicked. He died at the scene.

A Summit County grand jury indicted the three men on the following charges in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas:

  • Deshawn Stafford, age 20: Two counts of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault
  • Tyler Stafford, age 19: Involuntary manslaughter and assault
  • Donovon Jones, age 21: Two counts of assault

Lee Plakas, the attorney representing the Liming family, said the family is devastated over the loss of Ethan but believes his death can be a catalyst for change.

“His loss will forever leave a hole in the Liming family but it is the Liming family’s prayer that Ethan would not have died in vain,” he said. “They hope that the circumstances of his death will alert our community, our society, to the clear and present danger that result when social media platforms target the youth of our communities and encourage them to engage in very reckless and dangerous actives that result, and will result, in more tragic death.”

On the night of Ethan’s death, Plakas said it appears that Ethan and his friends were using a SplatRBall gun, one that can look and appear like a real gun.

“It’s got the ability to inflict very serious damage and create situations that cannot end well,” he said.

But he and his associate, Elisabeth Jackson, said firing it at unsuspecting bystanders is a trend that TikTok made popular, it’s called the ‘Splatter Ball Challenge.”

“Drive by unsuspecting people and mimic a drive-by shooting, so you could see how this challenge is reckless and could result in severe harm or death” said Jackson.

She added this is not the first dangerous challenge that is perpetuated and replicated on TikTok.

There’s the ‘Black Out Challenge’ which encourages users to hold their breath until they pass out and we are aware of 7 children who have died thus far from that, there’s the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ where children were encouraged to eat poisonous Tide Pods and I believe 10 children died from that challenge and there’s also a ‘Slap a Teacher Challenge, where children were encouraged to go up and assault their teacher in the middle of a school day,” she said.

Plakas said it is time to hold the social media platform responsible and accountable for these deaths and injuries.

“The more reckless, the more dangerous the presentation is on the internet, the more people watch it and that drives the profit for social media platforms,” he said. “All they care about is profit and they sacrifice children in our communities.”

Additionally, they added that the manufacturer of the toy gun is responsible, too.

It is a toy-gun that is advertised for 14 years and older. The box the toy gun comes in has a warning label that reads: “Do not brandish or display this air gun in public- it may confuse people and may be a crime. Police and others may think this air gun is a firearm.”

“To us it means that the manufacturer recognizes that this toy can cause chaos or injury or death,” said Plakas. “What warning is ever on a toy that says don’t use it in public and isn’t that a recognition that this really isn’t a toy?”

Andrew Geronimo is the director of the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

He said that suing a social media platform can be tricky because the problem that some plaintiffs’ lawyers run into is a federal law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“The platforms are not to be treated as the publisher or speaker of the things that appear on their platforms. They’re sort of conduits for speech,” said Geronimo. “If I go on Facebook and defame somebody on Facebook, Section 230 says you can’t hold Facebook responsible for that, you have to go to the end user, the person who actually said it.”

But, Geronimo said that there is a push to get the legislature changed.

“It has been somewhat of bulletproof protection for these companies that people are increasingly seeing, you know, maybe causing real harm to society,” said Geronimo.

Plakas admits that the potential lawsuit is comparable to a David vs. Goliath battle, but adds he thinks it’s time to make a change.

“There has to be a beginning to the end of this and the Liming family hopes that others have enough courage to join them in starting the movement that would require these social media companies to be responsible,” he said.

Schultz, J. (2022, July 29). Ethan Liming family attorney considering a lawsuit against TikTok and toy-gun manufacturer after Teen’s death. WEWS. Retrieved July 29, 2022, from


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