Law­suit against weapons man­u­fac­turer for school mas­sacre reaches top Con­necti­cut court


HART­FORD, Con­necti­cut (Reuters) – Con­necti­cut’s high­est court is set to hear ar­gu­ments on Tues­day in a closely watched case brought by the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing against the maker of the as­sault ri­fle used by the killer.

The fam­i­lies of nine of the vic­tims and one sur­vivor have said man­u­fac­turer Rem­ing­ton Arms Com­pany Inc., along with a gun whole­saler and lo­cal re­tailer, should be held re­spon­si­ble for the car­nage at the Newtown, Con­necti­cut, school be­cause they mar­keted the weapon based on its mil­i­taris­tic ap­peal.

It is a some­what novel le­gal ar­gu­ment the fam­i­lies hope will help them over­come a fed­eral law en­acted by US Congress in 2005 to shield gun man­u­fac­tur­ers from li­a­bil­ity for how their prod­ucts are used.

Rem­ing­ton did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. In court fil­ings, the com­pany has said the fam­i­lies’ claims, first filed in 2014, are barred by the 2005 law.

A lower court judge agreed with the gun maker and dis­missed the fam­i­lies’ law­suit in 2016. But the Con­necti­cut Supreme Court agreed to hear the case a week af­ter the fam­i­lies filed their first ap­peal.

Adam Lanza, 20, used a Rem­ing­ton AR-15 Bush­mas­ter ri­fle – a semi-au­to­matic civil­ian ver­sion of the US mil­i­tary’s M-16 – to kill 20 school­child­ren be­tween the ages of 6 and 7, as well as six adult staff mem­bers.

The fam­i­lies claim Rem­ing­ton and the other de­fen­dants “ex­tolled the mil­i­taris­tic and as­saultive qual­i­ties” of the AR-15, ad­ver­tis­ing the ri­fle as “mis­sion-adapt­able” and “the ul­ti­mate com­bat weapons sys­tem” in a de­lib­er­ate pitch to a de­mo­graphic of young men fas­ci­nated by the mil­i­tary.

The fam­i­lies said Lanza was part of that de­mo­graphic and cited me­dia re­ports say­ing he had ex­pressed a de­sire to join the army.

The ri­fle was bought by Lanza’s mother, whom he also killed, as a gift for him or for the two of them to share, the law­suit claims.

The fam­i­lies’ ar­gu­ment is based on the le­gal doc­trine of neg­li­gent en­trust­ment, in which a prod­uct is care­lessly sold or given to a per­son at high risk of us­ing it in a harm­ful way. Neg­li­gent en­trust­ment is specif­i­cally ac­cepted from the 2005 gun maker shield laws.

The ar­gu­ment has his­tor­i­cally been used where some­one lends a car to a high-risk driver who goes on to cause an ac­ci­dent. It has met with some suc­cess in law­suits against gun shop own­ers, but le­gal ex­perts said it has never been used be­fore to tar­get a man­u­fac­turer.

David Stud­dert, a Stan­ford Law School pro­fes­sor, said he thought it was a tough ar­gu­ment for the fam­i­lies to make be­cause neg­li­gent en­trust­ment has tra­di­tion­ally in­volved some­one hav­ing di­rect knowl­edge that another per­son poses a risk.

If the Sandy Hook fam­i­lies are suc­cess­ful, Ti­mothy Lyt­ton, a law pro­fes­sor at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity, said he would ex­pect the US Supreme Court to take up the case.

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