Connecticut Supreme Court gives families in Sandy Hook case new hope in their suit against gun maker
In a 4-3 decision that marks a potentially major turning point in the fight between gun law reformers and gun rights advocates, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision Thursday that had dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit against gun manufacturer Remington. The suit was brought by families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Remington is the maker of the Bushmaster XM!5-E25, the semi-automatic military-style assault weapon Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and six school staff.
The case, which has been in the courts since 2014, was remanded to the trial court for further consideration. “It falls to a jury to decide whether the promotional schemes alleged in the present case rise to the level of illegal trade practices and whether fault for the tragedy can be laid at their feet,” the ruling stated.
As reported by David Altimari at The Hartford Courant, a Bridgeport Superior Court judge had dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, stating that it fell afoul of provisions in the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) that shield gun manufacturers from liability when firearms they have made are used in crimes. The state Supreme Court’s reversal gives plaintiffs a chance to prove in court that Remington violated Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) because it marketed a weapon designed for military use to civilians.
Legal experts said the case will come down to how the state Supreme Court will interpret two possible exceptions allowed under the arms act — whether Remington can be held liable for so-called “negligent entrustment” or whether it violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Negligent entrustment is defined as “supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others.”
When the lawsuit reached the Connecticut Supreme Court, gun control advocates, school officials and emergency doctors who treated victims of assault rifle fire submitted amicus briefs in favor of the lawsuit. Gun-rights organizations also weighed in, including the National Rifle Association, which argued that the case stood to “eviscerate” the gun companies’ legal protections.
In 2017, Joshua D. Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, said in oral arguments before a panel of judges that “Remington may never have known Adam Lanza, but they had been courting him for years.”
At the New York Times, Rick Rojas and Kristin Hussey write:
The ruling validates the novel strategy lawyers for the victims’ families used as they sought to find a route around the vast protections in federal law that guard gun companies from litigation when their products are used to commit a crime. [...]
The lawsuit argued that the AR-15-style Bushmaster used in the 2012 attack had been marketed as a weapon of war, invoking the violence of combat and using slogans like “Consider your man card reissued.”
The high stakes posed by the case stirred a vigorous response from both sides that only intensified after recurring episodes of deadly mass violence that followed the Newtown attack.
In a prepared statement, Koskoff said: “The families are grateful that our state’s Supreme Court has rejected the gun industry’s bid for complete immunity, not only from the consequences of their reckless conduct but also from the truth-seeking discovery process. The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety.”