Court rules gunmaker can be sued over Sandy Hook massacre

Court rules gunmaker can be sued over Sandy Hook massacre

Court rules gunmaker can be sued over Sandy Hook massacre

Connecticut's Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the manufacturer of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle can be sued and potentially held liable in connection with the 2012 mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. state's Supreme Court said the lawsuit could proceed on the basis of state consumer protection laws.

Timothy Lytton, Georgia State University law professor and author of a book on gun litigation, said the decision was a setback for gun makers, which have been shielded from liability in mass shootings.

A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2016, agreeing with Remington that federal law shields gun makers from liability when their products are used in crimes.

The has contacted Remington for comment.

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They argue the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used by Newtown shooter Adam Lanza is too risky for the public and Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people, including those with mental illness.

The groundbreaking decision overturned a lower-court ruling barring the lawsuit, which was brought by the estates of nine victims killed by Adam Lanza, who was armed with the high-powered rifle during his assault on the school.

In a 4-3 opinion, the court narrowly ruled that families of victims of the Newtown school shooting can challenge whether Remington violated trade practices in how it marketed the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting.

In the long-running war between the gun lobby and gun safety advocates, the CT battle could possibly represent a turning point. Several groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association to emergency room doctors, submitted briefs to the court.

The defendants counter that all of the plaintiffs' legal theories are not only barred under CT law, but also precluded by a federal statute, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

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Remington attorneys previously argued that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protects companies involved in the sale of the gun that ended up in Lanza's hands from this exact kind of lawsuit.

Judge Bellis concluded in 2016 that such a breathtakingly broad understanding of negligent entrustment is at odds with CT common law and with the PLCAA, which defines the cause of action as "the 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".

On March 14, 2019, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed Judge Bellis' decision, ruling the case can go forward based on the marketing strategy employed to the sell the AR-15 at the time Nancy Lanza purchased it. "Once we accept the premise that Congress did not intend to immunize firearms suppliers who engage in truly unethical and irresponsible marketing practices promoting criminal conduct", the court said, "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".

Remington has invoked the 2005 law in arguing that the case should be dismissed.

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