Landmark Case Opens Path to Future Suits against Gunmakers for Mass Shootings and Reveals Inner Workings of Gun Company
WATERBURY, Conn.—The families of five children and four adults killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School today announced a landmark victory in their long-running case against Remington, the company that made and marketed the AR-15 weapon used in the massacre.
The families have secured two key victories: first, they have obtained and can make public thousands of pages of internal company documents that prove Remington’s wrongdoing and carry important lessons for helping to prevent future mass shootings. Second, the now-bankrupt Remington’s four insurers have all agreed to pay the full amount of coverage available, totaling $73 million.
“These nine families have shared a single goal from the very beginning: to do whatever they could to help prevent the next Sandy Hook. It is hard to imagine an outcome that better accomplishes that goal,” said Josh Koskoff, Lead Counsel and Partner at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. “This victory should serve as a wake up call not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up. For the gun industry, it’s time to stop recklessly marketing all guns to all people for all uses and instead ask how marketing can lower risk rather than court it. For the insurance and banking industries, it’s time to recognize the financial cost of underwriting companies that elevate profit by escalating risk. Our hope is that this victory will be the first boulder in the avalanche that forces that change.”
“My beautiful butterfly, Dylan, is gone because Remington prioritized its profit over my son’s safety. Marketing weapons of war directly to young people known to have a strong fascination with firearms is reckless and, as too many families know, deadly conduct. Using marketing to convey that a person is more powerful or more masculine by using a particular type or brand of firearm is deeply irresponsible. My hope is that by facing and finally being penalized for the impact of their work, gun companies, along with the insurance and banking industries that enable them, will be forced to make their business practices safer than they have ever been,” said Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the shooting.
The families brought this case, first filed in December 2014, to learn why and how Remington marketed the AR-15 specifically to young, violence-prone men. The wrongful death lawsuit faced a seemingly insurmountable legal hurdle: a protection for firearms manufacturers, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), that was believed to be a blanket immunity in mass shooting cases. Legal experts called the case “a losing proposition,” “an extraordinary reach” and a “remote possibility.”
Taking an innovative approach to the PLCAA problem, the families’ attorneys, Josh Koskoff and Alinor Sterling of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder (‘KKB’), showed that Remington’s aggressive and violence-glorifying marketing of its AR-15s was an unfair trade practice, a violation of Connecticut law. This ground-breaking legal strategy meant that PLCAA’s protection for firearms manufacturers did not apply and thus allowed the case to move forward. The families’ case is often compared to the first cases in the historic tobacco litigation, important both because it shows that winning against a previously impervious industry is possible, and because it lifts the veil of corporate secrecy.
Over the life of the case, the families have obtained thousands of pages of internal documents and conducted multiple depositions of Remington’s leadership and marketing teams. Driven by profit goals set by parent company Cerberus, Remington changed its previously sober approach to marketing firearms in favor of an aggressive, multi-media campaign that pushed sales of AR-15s through product placement in first-person shooter videogames and by touting the AR-15’s effectiveness as a killing machine.
“Before we brought this case, gunmakers thought they could not be held accountable for mass shootings. This case shows they can be,” said Alinor Sterling, Lead Counsel and Partner at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. “It is already serving as a model for other gun cases across the country. When an industry can be held accountable for its behavior, that behavior becomes more responsible.”
In July 2021, Remington took the extraordinary step of offering $33 million to settle this “losing proposition” of a case. The families did not accept because they wanted to ensure they had obtained enough documents and taken enough depositions to prove Remington’s misconduct, a process that has continued over the last six months. It was also important that the insurance carriers pay all available coverage toward settlement to ensure the case’s message to the insurance industry was clear. The families were successful in that respect as well—the settlement amount, $73 million, is all the available coverage.
“Today is not about honoring our son Benjamin. Today is about how and why Ben died. It is about what is right and what is wrong. Our legal system has given us some justice today, but David and I will never have true justice. True justice would be our fifteen-year-old healthy and here with us. But Benny will never be 15. He will be 6 forever because he is gone forever. Today is about what is right and what is wrong,” said Francine Wheeler, whose son Ben was killed in the shooting.
“Our loss is irreversible, and in that sense this outcome is neither redemptive nor restorative. One moment we had this dazzling, energetic 6-year-old little boy, and the next all we had left were echoes of the past, photographs of a lost boy who will never grow older, calendars marking a horrifying new anniversary, a lonely grave, and pieces of Noah’s life stored in a backpack and boxes,” said Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose son Noah was killed in the shooting. “Every day is a realization that he should be there, and he is not. What is lost remains lost. However, the resolution does provide a measure of accountability in an industry that has thus far operated with impunity. For this, we are grateful.”
Known as Soto Et Al v. Bushmaster Firearms International in Connecticut Superior Court, the plaintiffs in the case include the families of: Victoria Soto, Dylan Hockley, Mary Sherlach, Noah Pozner, Lauren Rousseau, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis, Daniel Barden and Rachael D’Avino.
Since the case was first filed more than seven years ago, the plaintiffs have been represented by Joshua D. Koskoff and Alinor C. Sterling of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder. Former Koskoff attorney Katie Mesner-Hage was instrumental in formulating the legal strategy, and Koskoff attorneys Jeffrey Wisner and Lorena Thompson worked tirelessly on the case.
The Koskoff team also received extraordinary pro bono support from the greater legal community at various stages of the litigation. Of particular note, in February 2020, the Koskoff team was joined by Chris Boehning and Janus Schutte of Paul, Weiss as additional counsel of record. Mr. Boehning and Mr. Schutte and their many colleagues worked alongside the Koskoff firm contributing to litigation strategy and to the families’ successful efforts to secure critical evidence. They, along with their colleague Kyle Kimpler, took the lead in protecting the case during Remington’s second bankruptcy proceeding. Don Verrilli and his team at Munger Tolles wrote the winning argument opposing SCOTUS review of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s landmark decision allowing the families’ case to continue after a state court dismissal.