One recent state Supreme Court decision could completely change the legal system in terms of families being able to hold gun manufacturers liable for wrongful death. On March 14, the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed a claim brought by the surviving family members of the Sandy Hook massacre against gun distributors, manufacturers, and sellers to move forward, laying the foundation to overcome legislative efforts to protect the gun industry from tort claims. The decision is the first to allow families to move forward in obtaining justice in spite of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which attempted to halt the courts in their efforts to allow families to hold gun sellers accountable.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – Notable Exceptions
The Act still does allow a few exceptional claims to move forward, which laid the groundwork for the Connecticut Supreme Court’s recent decision. Specifically, it allows for families and individuals to bring what is known as negligent entrustment claims, which would involve, for example, alleging that gun dealers are selling guns to individuals who are too young and/or without properly following state-mandated background checks.
However, in order for a claim like this to be accepted, the sale has to occur between the dealer and the individual who caused the injury (as opposed to the gun eventually ending up in the hands of the individual who inflicts that injury).
Plaintiffs in the case were also able to move the case forward under another exception, which involves gun manufacturers and sellers to be held accountable if they violate a state or federal law in selling or marketing a firearm. In this case, plaintiffs argued that the gun manufacturer violated the state’s unfair and deceptive practices law–which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts in the conduct of commerce or trade–and that defendants had marketed firearms for criminal, illegal purposes, and thus committed deceptive acts.
The Court agreed that the state trade practices act can be used to compensate people for personal injury and wrongful death and that a direct seller relationship is not required to do so, and is applicable to the sale of a weapon used to inflict injury.
Opening Up Claims Using State Deceptive Trade Laws, Nationwide
The impacts of this decision—if not successfully appealed at the U.S. Supreme Court level or by Congress—could be far-reaching, allowing individuals and families to bring claims under every state’s unfair trade practices law. In addition, this case will now go through discovery, which will undoubtedly reveal damaging information to the gun industry concerning how they distribute, market, and sell guns.
Contact Our California Wrongful Death Attorneys
If you have lost a loved one due to someone or something’s intentional or negligent conduct—including businesses that engage in unscrupulous marketing of dangerous products—you may very well have access to justice via the courts. Contact our California wrongful death attorneys today for a free consultation to find out more about your rights and options.