Conn. Supreme Court to Hear Sandy Hook Lawsuit Against Gun Makers

ROBERT STORACE, The Connecticut Law Tribune
December 1, 2016

The Connecticut Supreme Court is bypassing a lower court to hear an appeal from several families whose loved ones were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and who are trying to sue the manufacturers of the gun used.

Tuesday's decision by the high court comes two weeks after nine families of the victims and a survivor appealed a Superior Court judge's dismissal of the case. In October, Fairfield District Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis granted motions from gun manufacturers Remington Arms Co. and Bushmaster Firearms to dismiss the complaint, which was attempting to hold them liable for the shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.

Joshua Koskoff, one of the attorneys representing the families, said Thursday that "we are very pleased this case was taken by the [high] court so expeditiously. I think the case speaks for itself."

Koskoff, who is affiliated with the Bridgeport-based law firm of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, added, "At the end of the day, we believe the laws are applied with fundamental fairness and equity in mind. We believe strongly in the legitimacy of our claims. They are well founded. We are asking for the Supreme Court to take a fresh look at this case. All the families have ever asked for is their day in court."

In her decision to dismiss, Bellis wrote, in part, "The allegations in the present case do not fit within the common-law tort of negligent entrustment under well-established Connecticut law, nor do they come within [the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act]'s definition of negligent entrustment." The law, according to Bellis, broadly prohibits lawsuits against gun makers, distributors, dealers and importers from harm caused by the criminal misuse of their firearms.

Koskoff said the last meaningful decision under the law was an automobile case during the 1930s.

"The laws are not frozen in time and are not static," Koskoff said. "The law is dynamic and it has to apply to contemporaneous issues and technologies. This issue has never been resolved by the Appellate Courts, and the Supreme Court is really where it belongs."

The families' appeal also stated that the high court should determine and decipher the true meaning of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, which has many interpretations. That law, in essence, states that "any person" who suffers an "ascertainable loss of money or property, real or personal, as a result of the use or employment of a method, act or practice prohibited by CUTPA may bring an action to recover actual damages."

Koskoff has maintained that the gun manufacturers bear responsibility because "they profit and market aggressively and irresponsibly these assault weapons, which were designed for the men and women in uniform to see in battle."

The families first sued Remington and others in Connecticut Superior Court in 2014, alleging the companies shared liability for the deaths of those gunned down by Adam Lanza. Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. The plaintiffs allege that Remington sold the weapon to the distributor, Camfour, which in turn sold the rifle to the gun shop, Riverview Sales, which then sold the gun to Lanza's mother. Camfour and Riverview are listed as defendants along with Remington and Bushmaster. Riverview has since gone out of business.

Attorneys representing Camfour, Riverview, Remington and Bushmaster did not return calls Thursday.