Supreme Court Lets Lawsuit By Sandy Hook Families Against Remington Move Ahead

Nov 12, 2019
Originally published on November 12, 2019 3:36 pm

A closely watched lawsuit that could provide a roadmap for suing gun companies in the wake of mass shootings can move forward in a Connecticut court, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

A survivor and relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are suing Remington Arms Co., which manufactured the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 26 people. The plaintiffs argue that Remington should be held responsible for marketing the rifle to high-risk young men like the shooter at Sandy Hook.

The suit is a high-stakes challenge to gun companies, which have rarely been held liable for crimes committed with their products. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a 2005 federal law, generally shields firearms manufacturers and retailers from civil liability in lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence.

The Connecticut Supreme Court largely agreed that the gun company is protected from liability by federal law. The state Supreme Court ruled in March that the lawsuit could continue, however, on narrow legal ground: the plaintiffs could allege that Remington violated Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, which the court said prohibits “advertisements that promote or encourage violent, criminal behavior.”

Remington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. By declining to hear the case, the high court effectively allowed the lawsuit to proceed in Connecticut.

“It essentially opens the door for this litigation to go forward, which suggests that firearms manufacturers might be exposed to liability under state unfair-trade-practices laws,” said Timothy Lytton, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law and the author of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts.

Because many states have laws similar to the one at the heart of the Connecticut case, the gun industry will be watching.

“This basically blew a very large hole in the gun industry’s immunity and it’s the kind of hole that could be exploited by plaintiffs around the country,” Lytton said.

This may not be the U.S. Supreme Court’s only chance to weigh in on this case, however, Lytton said. Remington could appeal again to the Supreme Court once the litigation process has played out in Connecticut.

Remington could not be reached for comment. An eventual ruling against the company could establish legal precedent, opening doors for more lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and expose the company’s internal communications about its marketing plans.

Attorney Josh Koskoff, who represents some of the plaintiffs, said they are ready for a court date in December.

“They now can finally get what they filed this case for, which is some answers,” Koskoff said, “and expose the decision making of this industry in the hopes that it can prevent future conduct that leads to mass shootings.”

Guns & America’s Ryan Lindsay contributed to this story.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life. This story has been updated with more information.


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