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Sandy Hook families can sue AR-15 gunmaker Remington, court rules

A woman places a memento at the sign for Sandy Hook Elementary School on Saturday, December 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., a day after a shooting rampage where 26 people died. Police say civilians trampled evidence and contaminated the crime scene in the hours following the shooting. (Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant/TNS)
March 14, 2019

The Connecticut Supreme Court decided on Thursday to allow Sandy Hook victims’ families to sue gunmaker Remington.

In a 4-3 decision, the court decided to reverse a ruling made by the lower court, Bridgeport Superior Court, which originally dismissed a lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook families against Remington in 2015.

Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 – which was legally owned by his mother – in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. He killed 26 people, including 20 first-grade students, before killing himself. After killing his mother in their Newtown, Conn. home, Lanza had traveled to the elementary school where his mother worked and he formerly attended, and opened fire on students and teachers in two classrooms.

Gunmakers have been protected from lawsuits via the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), however, the justices contend that the victims’ families are permitted to argue Remington’s alleged violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA), the Hartford Courant reported Thursday.

“We further conclude that PLCAA does not bar the plaintiffs from proceeding on the single, limited theory that the defendants violated CUTPA by marketing the XM15- E2S to civilians for criminal purposes, and that those wrongful marketing tactics caused or contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.”

“Following a scrupulous review of the text and legislative history of [the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act] we also conclude that Congress has not clearly manifested an intent to extinguish the traditional authority of our legislature and our courts to protect the people of Connecticut from the pernicious practices alleged in the present case. The regulation of advertising that threatens the public’s health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states’ police powers.” Justice Palmer added.

“Accordingly, on the basis of that limited theory, we conclude that the plaintiffs have pleaded allegations sufficient to survive a motion to strike and are entitled to have the opportunity to prove their wrongful marketing allegations,” Palmer concluded.

The families filed a lawsuit against Remington in 2015, alleging that the company manufactured and marketed a military weapon that ended up in the hands of a civilian.

Bridgeport Superior Court decided in 2016 to dismiss the lawsuit, declaring that it “falls squarely within the broad immunity” provided under the PLCAA.

“There is no need for a legal re-examination of the law,” said James Vogts, Remington’s attorney. “Under the law, the manufacturer of the gun used by the criminal that day isn’t responsible legally for his actions.”

Legal analysts say Remington could be held liable under the “negligent entrustment” exception in the law, which defines 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.”