Gun Maker Gets Sandy Hook Suit Moved to Federal Court

By PAT EATON-ROBB | January 26, 2015

Gun maker Remington has moved a lawsuit by families of those shot in the Sandy Hook school massacre from state to federal court, where at least one expert says it has less chance of succeeding.

Nine families sued Remington and others in Bridgeport Superior Court in December arguing the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle used in the shooting should not have been sold for civilian use because of its overwhelming firepower. A 10th family joined the lawsuit adding a wrongful death claim.

The case was placed before U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny last week after Remington argued that since it is located in North Carolina and not Connecticut, federal court was a more proper jurisdiction.

Timothy Lytton, a professor at the Albany Law School who has written extensively about suing the gun industry, said getting the case into the 2nd U.S. Circuit, of which Connecticut is a part, is a victory for the defendants.

“The 2nd Circuit has previously refused to hold gun manufacturers liable or permit lawsuits against gun manufacturers for injuries caused by third parties,” he said. “It has a history of knocking these types of cases down.”

A 2005 federal law shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products, but it does include an exception for cases where companies should know a weapon is likely to be used in a way that risks injury to others.

That exception, known as “negligent entrustment,” was designed for cases such as when a gun store sells to someone who is obviously intoxicated and threatening to kill someone, Lytton said.

The lawyers for the Newtown families are arguing that the Bushmaster is a military weapon that was negligently entrusted to civilians, who should not have been allowed to purchase it.

Lytton said it might have been harder for Remington to defend against that argument, especially on appeal, in the state court system.

“They may be concerned about local sentiment in the state courts,” Lytton said. “And they may be more confident, given the 2nd Circuit’s history of refusing to allow these cases to go forward, that they stand a better chance in federal court.”

The plaintiffs in the case stemming from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre include the families of Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Dylan Hockley, Noah Pozner, Lauren Rousseau, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis, Daniel Barden, Rachel D’Avino and a teacher, Natalie Hammond, who was injured and survived.

In addition to Remington Arms, which makes the rifle, the defendants are Camfour, a firearm distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales, the now-closed East Windsor store where the gunman’s mother purchased the Bushmaster rifle in 2010.

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