Sandy Hook Families Ask Court to Reinstate Suit Against Gun Manufacturers

Robert Storace, The Connecticut Law Tribune
November 15, 2016

Several families of the victims killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre are asking Connecticut's Supreme Court to reinstate their civil liability case against two gun manufactures that they claim "chose to sell a weapon of war and aggressively market its assaultive capabilities."

In an appeal filed Tuesday, attorneys representing nine family members and one survivor asked the justices to better define "negligent entrustment" under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, and to remand the case for a jury trial.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis granted motions from gun manufacturers Remington Arms Co. and Bushmaster Firearms, to dismiss the complaint, which is attempting to hold the manufacturers liable for the 2012 shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead. The law, according to Bellis, broadly prohibits lawsuits against gun makers, distributors, dealers and importers for harm caused by the criminal use or misuse of their firearms.

The ruling also encompassed negligent entrustment under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Two of the attorneys representing the victims said they're confident the state Supreme Court will hear the case and remand it for a jury trial.

"Most cases of negligent entrustment [in Connecticut] had to deal with cars," said Katherine Mesner-Hage, who is with the Bridgeport-based law firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder. "The tort was recognized in 1933. Fast forward to 2010 [when the weapons were sold] and we are giving weapons to people with no oversight. This is a new world and the courts have not necessarily caught up to that. The trial

court looked at available laws and saw things about cars. The Supreme Court can take a broader view."

An attorney for gun distributor Camfour Inc., Christopher Renzulli of the White Plains, New York, firm Renzulli Law Firm, said Tuesday's appeal was expected.

"The court's order reached the right conclusion by dismissing the case on the facts," Renzulli said. "The court found the plaintiffs claims were not viable under Connecticut law and also barred by PLCAA [Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act]."

The two-paragraph appeal also states 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 of employment of a method, act or practice prohibited by CUTPA may bring an action to recover actual damages."

Joshua Koskoff, also an attorney with Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, said there "is responsibility on the part of those that profit and market aggressively and irresponsibly these assault weapons, which were designed for the men and women in uniform to see in battle to kill people. These are not handguns we are talking about, but the weapons of choice of those in the military."

Mesner-Hage said "the long-term goal is to get a jury [monetary] verdict in favor [of families] and to say what kind of responsibilities gun companies have. There is another goal and that's to expose the decisions made by the defendants in a transparent and open forum and to shine light on practices that have resulted in Sandy Hook and numerous other mass shootings where an AR-15 rifle or a similar type of weapon has been used."

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.

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