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Lawsuit by Sandy Hook families against gun manufacturer will go to trial in 2021

In this 2012 file photo, flowers, teddy bears, candles, balloons and a pair of angel wings left by mourners are seen at the Sandy Hook Elementary School sign. (Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant/TNS)

A lawsuit by nine families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings against the company that made the gun used in the massacre will go to trial in September of 2021.

On Wednesday lawyers for Remington Arms and the families agreed to the date after nearly two hours of haggling before Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis. Remington pushed for a court date in 2022 but Attorney Josh Koskoff, who is representing the families, wanted September of 2021.

Bellis said the case has been on the docket too long — the lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 — to wait until 2022.

“If this was a new case I might agree to an April (2022) trial date, but not on a case that’s been before me since 2015,” Bellis said. “I haven’t had this case in 3 1/2 years and because of the age of it there needs to be a tighter timeline.”

None of the nine family members of victims attended the scheduling conference in Waterbury Superior Court. The case was originally filed in Bridgeport but has moved to Waterbury so Bellis could keep it.

Bellis had originally dismissed the lawsuit in November of 2016, siding with lawyers for Remington Arms that the lawsuit “falls squarely within the broad immunity” provided to gun manufacturers and dealers” by the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, known as PLCAA, which has protected the manufacturers of the AR-15 rifle from lawsuits.

But last year the state Supreme Court overturned that dismissal ruling by a 4-3 vote that the Sandy Hook families should have the opportunity to prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by marketing what it knew was a weapon designed for military use to civilians such as Nancy and Adam Lanza.

Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 26 people, including 20 first graders inside the Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14, 2012. He fired 156 rounds in less than five minutes before using a handgun to then kill himself.

Nine families of victims, plus a teacher who was injured and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting originally filed the lawsuit in 2015, also naming Camfour Holding LLP, the gun’s distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza purchased the weapon for her son. Camfour and Riverview have since been dropped as defendants.

The justices ruled that although Bellis was correct in dismissing the lawsuit based on Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, she was should have let the case proceed on the allegations that the unfair trade practices law violated.

“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 Richard Palmer wrote.

The justices remanded the case back to Bellis.

But Remington appealed the state ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court further delaying the case. The court declined to hear the case.

When the case was dismissed in November of 2016 the two sides had just started discovery. Remington’s attorneys were already fighting about what documents would be turned over and what should be kept confidential.

Koskoff anticipates Remington will try to keep internal documents sealed from public view — something that the families will want to fight.

Remington’s attorney’s had previously filed a motion seeking to limit discovery and seal certain documents including marketing, promotional and sales strategies, specific sales numbers for certain guns and firearm design drawings and engineering specifications.

The Sandy Hook families have said they filed the lawsuit in hopes of getting Remington to reveal internal documents on how the gun companies have marketed the AR-15, which is a weapon used by some mass shooters. The gun manufacturers have closely guarded information on how they market the rifles.

“All we have ever wanted is to peel back the layers of this corporate entity Remington so we can find out what their goals were and objectives were in the marketing of this product,” said William Sherlach, whose wife, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, was killed by Lanza.


© 2019 The Hartford Courant

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