The death of a man during a bondage session is raising questions about liability resulting from sex play.

Adrian Exley’s body was found in the woods in Rhode Island last June, two months after he was bound up in the bondage playroom Gary LeBlanc had built in the basement of his Massachusetts home.

According to AP, Exley, a 32-year-old stripper from Clapham, had travelled to Boston for a bondage session with LeBlanc after they met on a gay fetish website.

LeBlanc, a 48-year-old Gulf Oil sales executive, detailed his responsibility in the fatal bondage session in a five-page suicide note before taking his own life.

Exley’s family are now suing LeBlanc’s estate for unspecified damages, claiming wrongful death.

The lawsuit describes a three-day bondage and discipline session that ended when a third man, Scott Vincent, discovered Exley was not breathing.

Exley had been put in a closet while bound in plastic up to his neck and left alone for several hours, according to the lawsuit.

The issue that has subsequently been raised is whether Exley is responsible for his own death having consented to the sex.

Bondage enthusiasts are watching the case closely, seeing it as lesson in where to draw the line of responsibility on consensual but dangerous sex.

“There’s definitely the whole spectrum of thought on what really happened -whether it was a consent issue, or negligence or misunderstanding,” Vivienne Kramer, a board member of the New England Leather Alliance, told AP.

“Everybody has their own ideas on what should have happened.”

Exley and LeBlanc met through an online forum for gay men into rubber, leather and bondage.

Exley used the screen name “Studpup,” while LeBlanc called himself “Rubrman” and built a chamber complete with rubber mats on the floors and walls, chains, leather restraints, rubber suits and a hospital gurney.

John Andrews, a lawyer for LeBlanc’s estate, said Exley knew what he was getting into when he agreed to visit LeBlanc.

“It appears from all the objective evidence that the two were engaged in an activity that they both knew what the activity was, how it would be carried out, and they went forward on that basis,” Andrews said.

“What occurred was an act or actions between two consenting adults, both of whom knew what they were doing, and it had a tragic end.”

Exley arrived at LeBlanc’s house in Lynn on 20 April 2006. The pair had plans for LeBlanc to be the “master” and Exley his “slave.”

In emails cited in the lawsuit, LeBlanc had expressed a desire to totally dominate someone, and referred to Exley as “it.”

In his suicide note, LeBlanc admits that during the encounter, Exley had trouble breathing.

But he said that after “cooling him down,” Exley improved. LeBlanc said that he went to sleep about 3 am.on 23 April, but was woken up a few hours later by Vincent, who told him Exley “was not breathing, was blue getting cold.”

LeBlanc and Vincent drove to Rhode Island, where they buried Exley’s body in the Rockville Wildlife Management Area. They threw away his clothing and identification.

Vincent, a flight attendant who is also named as a defendant in the Exley lawsuit, is charged with failure to report a death – a misdemeanour – in Rhode Island, where Exley’s body was found. But he has not been charged criminally in Massachusetts, where Exley died.

In his suicide note, LeBlanc said he was “responsible for a horrible tragedy.”

Lawyers for Exley’s estate acknowledge that Exley wanted to participate in a bondage session with LeBlanc, but say he did not know about LeBlanc’s reputation as an “extreme edge player” in the bondage and sadomasochism community.

“Just because you are agreeing that you will allow someone to tie you up temporarily as part of role-playing doesn’t mean that you are consenting to be killed or to be left alone or to be abused,” attorney Randy Chapman said.

Several people who came forward after Exley’s death told police that LeBlanc had restrained them and left them alone for long periods of time, or ignored their requests that he curtail a bondage session.

Both actions go against the community’s protocols, which say participants must stop the session if their partner uses a prearranged “safe word” or “safe signal” and must not leave anyone who is bound alone, Susan Wright, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom told AP.

Brian Plant, a bondage and sadomasochism practitioner from Kansas, said he corresponded online with LeBlanc, but decided against meeting him in person after talking to him on the phone.

Plant, who had also corresponded with Exley online, said members of the bondage community, who are generally secretive because of their alternative lifestyles, have debated the level of responsibility each man had in their deadly encounter.

“Yes, they were consensual adults, and when they met up there was going to be this adult consensual activity, but no, I don’t buy that it was consensual right up to the moment he died,” Plant said. “You reach a point when the line is crossed, and it is no longer consensual.”

Kathy Jo Cook, an attorney who specializes in wrongful death cases, said that when you take away the sensational details of the Exley case, the claim being made by Exley’s estate is the same claim made in many other wrongful death cases.

“The law says if a person causes the death of another person by an act which is either negligent or reckless, that person is liable,” Cook said.

“You have a duty to behave reasonably. I think it’s the same thing here, albeit a very strange set of facts.”

Exley’s mother, Maggie Horner, from Blaby, Leicester, said she decided to sue LeBlanc’s estate after learning about the suicide note in which LeBlanc described going to sleep after binding up Exley.

The lawsuit is pending in Essex Superior Court in Salem.