The gun industry and its lawyers are on high alert after the Connecticut Supreme Court revived a lawsuit brought by the families of the Sandy Hook mass shooting against the Remington Arms Company.
The court’s decision remands the Sandy Hook case back to Bridgeport Superior Court, which tossed the case in October 2016, saying that it fell “squarely within the broad immunity” enjoyed by gun manufacturers and dealers under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the Sandy Hook families should have the opportunity to prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by marketing the AR-15 assault rifle to “high-risk” users for “criminal purposes.”
Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster AR-15 to massacre 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. Twenty of those killed in the terrorist attack were first-graders.
The Sandy Hook case could also be a litmus test for “negligent entrustment” as may pertain to gun manufacturers.
The definition of negligent entrustment in the U.S. is 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.”
“Contrary to the defendants’ claim, personal injuries resulting in death that are alleged to have resulted directly from wrongful advertising and marketing practices are cognizable under [the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act],” Connecticut’s high court wrote.
The Sandy Hook families are hopeful the ruling could open a door allowing them to access internal documents showing the marketing strategies gun manufacturers use to market assault weapons – information that remains closely guarded.
“There is a reason why this particular consumer product is the one that is used by people who want to inflict the most damage and we have seen it time and time again since my son and his classmates were killed,” said David Wheeler, whose son Ben was killed in the Sandy Hook attack, according to the Hartford Courant. “That reason very likely potentially resides in the documents that we have been unable to look at until now.”
The Sandy Hook plaintiffs, like many Americans pleading for gun safety reforms, say that the gun industry has become unaccountable under the law. A lawyer for one of the families said that the court’s March 14 ruling rejects the gun industry’s “bid for complete immunity, not only from the consequences of their reckless conduct but also from the truth-seeking discovery process.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the decision amounts to “a ‘wow’ moment in American legal history.”
According to the Hartford Courant, Sen. Blumenthal drew parallels between the Sandy Hook ruling and a 46-state lawsuit he helped lead as Connecticut attorney general against the tobacco industry. In that case, damaging revelations about cigarette companies uncovered during the discovery phase of the trial helped steer the case to a $246 billion settlement.
Sen. Blumenthal told the Hartford Courant that gun manufacturers have enjoyed an “unjust and unfair” shield that until Thursday’s ruling had been impenetrable. ”It holds them responsible, as every other industry is, for injury and death that they cause.”