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Will We See More Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers following the Sandy Hook Settlement?

By Steven Ellison, Esq. | Last updated on

On February 15, a lawyer representing nine families of the Sandy Hook massacre victims announced a $73 million settlement from Remington Arms, which made one of the firearms used in the shooting. Remington probably would have preferred to keep that amount secret.

Sandy Hook was one of the most horrific mass shootings in U.S. history. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and slaughtered 26 people, including 20 children. The families subsequently sued Remington, claiming it was responsible for the massacre.

The Sandy Hook Lawsuit

Specifically, they contended that Remington knew its Bushman XM15-E2S is a military-style assault rifle with virtually no reason for civilian use. They also claimed that Remington marketed the "assaultive" qualities of the firearm to consumers, knowing full well that when used as designed, the weapon was capable of inflicting massive injury and death.

Rather than go to trial, Remington chose to settle the case and wasn't able to keep the amount confidential. That makes this settlement particularly unusual.

The PLCAA: Gun Manufacturer Immunity(?)

In the U.S., gun manufacturers generally can't be sued when a gun is used in a crime under a 2005 federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). But there are six exceptions.

The families made use of the "predicate exception." Under that exception, a gun manufacturer can be sued if it knowingly violated a statute involving the "sale or marketing" of a firearm.

The Sandy Hook Complaint

In their lawsuit, the Sandy Hook families claimed that Remington knowingly violated Connecticut's unfair competition statute. They argued that the statute prohibits businesses of all sorts, including gun manufacturers, from marketing their products in a way that they know might increase the chance that they will be used to commit crimes.

The families asserted that Remington deliberately advertised the Bushman as a military-style weapon, and even hyped the weapon's “cool" factor, knowing that unstable people might want to own, and perhaps use, one. According to the families, a mass school shooting was a foreseeable result of Remington's marketing campaign.

Remington Fails To Get The Case Kicked Out of Court

Remington tried to get the case kicked out of court. But after a lengthy court fight (one that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to get involved in), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the case could go forward under the predicate exception.

Remington had a choice — go to trial or try to settle the case. Reports said that Remington had offered $33 million. The actual settlement was more than twice that. Remington must have believed its chances of winning the case weren't great.

Expect More Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers

The Sandy Hook families' legal theory could upend the gun manufacturing industry. The predicate exception could swallow the immunity rule. Every state has some type of unfair competition statute similar to Connecticut's.

That means that most experienced personal injury lawyers will be able to write lawsuits that connect gun manufacturers' ads to mass shootings. And given the size of the payout in the Sandy Hook case, it is fair to expect that we could see similar cases filed in the future. Keep in mind, however, that the facts of every case are different, and this does not automatically mean that every case will have the same outcome as the Sandy Hook case.

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