U.S. court: Sandy Hook victims' families can sue Remington

Sergio Conner
March 16, 2019

Gun-maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The company may be guilty of making unlawful marketing claims, the court ruled, due to its promotion of a military-grade weapon for hunting and "recreational" use by civilians; its use of images of combat when selling the AR-15; and its use of slogans like "Consider your man card reissued".

The lawsuit, which lists Bushmaster Firearms International as the defendant, has already overcome years worth of legal hurdles after first being filed more than four years ago, more than two years after the shooting at the CT school left 26 people dead.

"The regulation of advertising that threatens the public's health, safety, and morals has always been considered a core exercise of the states' police powers", Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority, adding he didn't believe Congress envisioned complete immunity for gun-makers.

It marks another case involving a 2005 federal law that generally shields gun makers and manufacturers from liability for crimes committed involving their products.

Nine of the families originally filed the lawsuit in 2014, and have faced delays as the case was sent from federal to state-level courts and as Remington filed for bankruptcy previous year.

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In a victory for gun control advocates, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned part of a lower court ruling Thursday to allow victims of the Sandy Hook shooting to sue gun manufacturer Remington.

But the narrowly-divided Supreme Court judges rejected that theory in a 4-3 ruling, instead saying the families could bring their claims under a different exemption to the 2005 federal shield law, basing it on a CT consumer protection statute. The court agreed with the trial judge that the plaintiffs, a survivor of the attack and relatives of nine people murdered at the school, could not sue under a theory of "negligent entrustment". "Today's decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal", said Josh Koskoff, one of the attorneys for the families, in a statement.

Connecticut Chief Justice Richard Robinson focused much of the dissenting opinion on the intent of Congress to limit gun-makers' liability.

Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle during the shooting, which the plaintiffs argue is a similar weapon to the AR-15.

The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, has provided the USA firearms industry an nearly impenetrable defence against lawsuits by victims of mass shootings and gun violence, broadly shielding Remington and others such as American Outdoor Brands Corp, Sturm Ruger & Co and Vista Outdoor Inc from liability stemming from such incidents.

On March 14, 2019, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed Judge Bellis' decision, ruling the case can go forward based on the marketing strategy employed to the sell the AR-15 at the time Nancy Lanza purchased it. Remington argued they responsibly market a legal firearm.

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