Asked about the Rich family's suit, a Fox spokesperson said, "We can't comment on this pending litigation". Skeptics nonetheless claimed Rich may have been killed for allegedly leaking the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, despite USA intelligence officials concluding that Russian hackers sourced the correspondence in question.
"With disregard for the truth and for the obvious harm that their actions would cause the Riches, Fox, Zimmerman and Butowsky propagated and developed a fictitious story that their deceased son, Seth - not Russian hackers or anyone else - provided Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks", Leonard A. Gail, the attorney representing the family, said in a statement.
Rich was shot twice in the early morning hours of July 10, 2016, not far from his home in Washington, D.C. He died soon after at a nearby hospital.
The Riches' suit is the latest legal action taken in the Southern District over the May 16, 2017, publication and subsequent removal of the article written by Zimmerman that suggested Rich's murder was connected to his alleged contact with WikiLeaks prior to his death.
"No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure", Rich's parents, Joel and Mary Rich, said in a joint statement this week. Right-wing pundit Sean Hannity faced backlash for doubling down on the conspiracy theory despite Fox News' retraction. Rod Wheeler, a private investigator and former Fox News contributor, has claimed he was defamed by allegedly made-up quotes attributed to him in the story. However, in the absence of definitive answers, conspiracy theories have proliferated online claiming-without evidence-that Rich was murdered under more suspicious circumstances. It also claims that Zimmerman provided similar information to Joel Rich, which the Riches allege was false.
But Joel and Mary Rich say that the story has followed them ever since, wreaking irreversible damage on them and their son, whose legacy has become entangled in a conspiracy theory that Fox elevated "from the fringe to the front pages and screens of the mainstream media", the lawsuit says.
The Riches also allege that the network, through its story, made it seem like they were involved in the story and confirmed its substance.
Butowsky, for his part, claims that he didn't write the piece, and that including him in the lawsuit is "baseless and frivolous". The Riches say Butowsky manipulated them by not disclosing that he was working with Zimmerman and Fox News to push the story.