In December 2012, Adam Lanza used Remington Arms’ Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to kill 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. In December 2014, nine families affected by the shooting filed suit for wrongful death against Camfour, Inc. (a firearms distributor), Riverview Gun Sales (the now-defunct Connecticut dealer), and Remington Arms in Connecticut Superior Court, seeking to hold the firearms companies accountable for the tragedy.
The lawsuit claimed the military-style assault rifle used in the Newtown attack should never have been sold to the gunman’s mother, Nancy Lanza (who was also killed in the attack), since it lacked a reasonable civilian purpose.
The case was delayed because the defense lawyers tried to transfer it to federal court, where it was less likely to move forward than at the state level. This summer, lawyers for Remington Arms moved to dismiss the case, arguing that federal law grants them immunity from legal claims arising out of the criminal misuse of a weapon. The court denied the motion, and the defendants refiled. This fall, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in favor of Remington by granting their renewed motion, reasoning Remington had “broad immunity” under federal law.
Specifically, Bellis ruled that the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shielded Remington from being sued for the use of its products in an illegal manner. The PLCAA was a campaign issue in the Democratic presidential primary. Hillary Clinton opposed it when she was in the Senate, while Bernie Sanders voted for it when he was in the House. In a 54-page decision, Bellis wrote that the case sought damages for harms that were caused solely by Lanza’s “criminal misuse of a weapon.” This action, she continued, fell directly “within the broad immunity provided by the PLCAA.”
The families appealed in Connecticut Appellate Court. The Connecticut Supreme Court transferred the case to its own docket, allowing the lawsuit to bypass the Appellate Court and be heard directly by the state’s highest court–a victory in the eyes of the plaintiffs.
In their appeal, attorneys for the families describe the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary as a horrific event carried out by a man with a weapon “designed for our armed forces and engineered to deliver maximum carnage.” They argue Remington was responsible because the company chose to sell a weapon of war and aggressively marketed its assaultive abilities.
The AR-15 was developed from the U.S. military’s M-16 rifle, which was used in the Vietnam War. Assault rifles like the Bushmaster have been used in several recent mass shootings, including the June attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which took 49 lives.
The Sandy Hook case is one of the country’s highest-profile cases against gun companies.
In the wake of the attacks, some of the victims’ family members formed a nonprofit, Sandy Hook Promise, to teach that gun deaths are preventable if people know the signs. The group kicked off its latest national campaign, called Know the Signs, last month with an online public service announcement. The PSA, released through the advertising agency BBDO New York, addresses the warning signs that someone is planning gun violence.
If you have lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence, you may need the assistance of a wrongful death lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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Family of Murdered Massachusetts High School Teacher Sues for Wrongful Death, Neumann Law Group, October 19, 2016.
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