Judge advances wrongful death suit against Remington

bushmaster

This Bushmaster rifle was found inside Sandy Hook Elementary School after the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. (Photo: Connecticut State’s Attorney )

After more than a month of review, a Connecticut state judge ruled Thursday that a lawsuit against Remington Outdoor Company over the shooting deaths of the Sandy Hook victims may continue.

In the decision, Judge Barbara Bellis raises issues over the procedure in which Remington challenged allegations brought against it. The company sought to dismiss the case entirely rather than strike details from the complaint.

Nine families of those killed in the massacre argue that marketing efforts by Bushmaster, a company Remington owns, played an influential role in motivating the gunman who carried out the shooting. In advertisements directed toward civilians, Bushmaster describes its weapons as fit for war — an attribute that plaintiffs argue sends a dangerous message to the general public.

Bellis addresses arguments regarding two laws that Remington cited to challenge the jurisdiction of the case. The first, a federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, shields the gun industry from liability claims if someone uses one of their products with malice.

“The court concludes that any immunity that PLCAA may provide does not implicate this court’s subject matter jurisdiction. The court further concludes that the plaintiffs’ failure, if any, to bring this action within an exception to PLCAA goes to the legal sufficiency of the complaint rather than the court’s jurisdiction,” Bellis says. “Accordingly, the defendants’ motion to dismiss, in which they claim that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, cannot be granted on the basis of PLCAA.”

The second is a state consumer protection law, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, that allows one to legally pursue “persons or businesses who have used unfair or deceptive trade practices with consumers.”

Instead of arguing that the plaintiffs’ injuries “are too indirect, remote, or derivative,” Remington argues that the plaintiffs lack standing because their “interest must be that of a consumer, competitor, or other business person,” Bellis says.

“The question of who—consumer, competitor, business relation, and/or an additional class of persons—has a protectable interest pursuant to CUTPA reflects a challenge to the plaintiffs’ legal interests, not standing, and thus does not affect the court’s subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ wrongful death claims,” Bellis says. “Accordingly, the defendants’ motions to dismiss cannot be granted on this ground.”

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs called the decision a huge victory for the Sandy Hook families. “We are thrilled that the gun companies’ motion to dismiss was denied. The families look forward to continuing their fight in court,” said Josh Koskoff, one of the lawyers representing the families, in a statement sent to Guns.com.

When the case was filed in December 2014, many legal experts speculated that it was unwinnable because of the physical and regulatory disconnect between the manufacturer of the firearm used in the incident and the shooter, but including the current decision, the case has overcome major legal hurdles.

A a month into the case, Remington pushed it to federal court where the company sought protections under PLCAA. But by October, the case was kicked back in state court.

Moving forward, a status conference for the case is scheduled for April 19.