The Connecticut Supreme Court gave the green light Thursday to a liability lawsuit against the makers of the AR-15 rifle Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
The parents of nine victims brought the suit in 2014, seeking damages against Remington Arms Co. LLC and daughter company Bushmaster Firearms International LLC, which made the rifle. They argued the companies bore responsibility for selling and aggressively marketing a “weapon of war” to the general public.
Remington and Bushmaster fought back against what they labeled an attempt to “demonize the rifle.” They asked the court to drop the case, claiming the plaintiffs’ theory of liability didn’t fit under state and federal law, and argued they weren’t at fault for what Lanza did.
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The justices agreed that the gun makers could be sued for their marketing of the rifle, which was directed at young men such as Lanza, who played violent video games.
Lanza’s killing spree lasted four and a half minutes, according to Thursday’s opinion, which said his weapon was “engineered to deliver maximum carnage with extreme efficiency.”
But the court struck the plaintiffs’ negligent entrustment claim, as Lanza’s mother bought the weapon after a background check.
“There is no allegation in this case that there was any reason to expect that Lanza’s mother was likely to use the rifle in an unsafe manner,” the opinion said.
The plaintiffs had tried to build a “nexus between the defendant and the dangerous user,” according to the opinion, pointing to evidence that family members often share weapons. But the court didn’t bite.
“We decline the plaintiffs’ invitation to stretch the doctrine of negligent entrustment so far beyond its historical moorings,” the opinion said.
The decision split the justices, with Justice Richard A. Robinson dissenting in part, along with Justices Christine S. Vertefeuille and Nina F. Elgo.
Counsel to the families, Joshua Koskoff, a partner at Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline, but released a statement.
“The families are grateful that our state’s Supreme Court has rejected the gun industry’s bid for complete immunity, not only from the consequences of their reckless conduct but also from the truth-seeking discovery process,” Koskoff said. “The families’ goal has always been to shed light on Remington’s calculated and profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users, all at the expense of Americans’ safety. Today’s decision is a critical step toward achieving that goal.”
Read the full court opinion: