As we approach the fourth anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Connecticut Supreme Court has just agreed to hear an appeal of a case brought by several relatives of the victims.
In October, a Connecticut Superior Court dismissed a suit brought by relatives and administrators of the estates of the victims against the manufacturer and the seller of the firearm used by Adam Lanza on that tragic day. In their suit, the plaintiffs alleged that the sellers and makers of the AR-15knew that it was designed for military use and that civilians were unfit to operate such a weapon. The plaintiffs contended that despite this knowledge, the defendants sold the firearm to civilians, thereby posing “an unreasonable and egregious risk of physical injury to others.” The plaintiffs’ claims were for wrongful death and loss of consortium, and each count also alleged a violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA).
The defendants filed a motion to strike, invoking immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), 15 U.S.C. § 7901 et seq. The PLCAA, passed in 2005, shields firearm manufacturers and sellers from civil suits related to the “criminal or unlawful use of a firearm.”
There are several exceptions to the shield from liability, including the negligent entrustment exception, upon which the plaintiffs in this case relied. The negligent entrustment exception applies where a seller “knows, or reasonably should have known” that the buyer “is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others.”
The Court ruled that the defendants’ conduct did not constitute negligent entrustment under Connecticut law or under the definition set forth in the PLCAA because the defendants did not directly entrust the weapon to the shooter, which the Court determined was necessary for the exception to apply.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the defendants violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Protection Act (CUTPA) by marketing the type of weapon Lanza used to the public, arguing that selling a weapon to civilians designed for military or law enforcement use posed an unreasonable and egregious risk to others. The court found the CUTPA claims legally insufficient because the plaintiffs did not allege a business relationship with the defendants. CUTPA does not explicitly require a business relationship between the parties, but caselaw has interpreted the statute to require such a relationship. The plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to clarify whether the statute should be interpreted this way.
The Superior Court’s opinion on the defendants’ motion to strike can be read here.
The docket and filings for the appeal is available on the Judicial Branch website.