Trials and Litigation

Trial date set for Sandy Hook lawsuit against gun companies

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A Connecticut judge has set a tentative trial date for a lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting against the gun manufacturers that created the weapon used by the shooter.

CNN reported that Judge Barbara Bellis of the Fairfield District Superior Court in Connecticut ruled Tuesday that the case can proceed to the discovery phase and set a tentative trial date for April 3, 2018. Bellis’ ruling came on the heels of her decision last week to allow the case against Bushmaster Firearms and Remington to move forward, despite the gun manufacturer’s claims that they are immune to liability under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

Bellis’ ruling last week to allow the case to proceed raised a lot of eyebrows due to PLCAA’s prohibition on lawsuits against gun manufacturers for the actions of individuals who use their firearms to commit violent crimes.

According to the Associated Press, Bellis held that the PLCAA “does not prevent lawyers for the families of Sandy Hook victims from arguing that the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is a military weapon and should not have been sold to civilians.”

The Sandy Hook victims’ families are suing under a theory that Bushmaster Firearms and Remington deliberately marketed their guns towards dangerous, potentially violent men and are demanding access to internal marketing documents.

CNN reported that this case is the first to proceed to discovery following the passage of the PLCAA. “This is precedent setting in the sense that, after PLCAA, this is the first case against a firearms manufacturer under a negligence theory that looks like it might make it to trial,” said Georgia State University law professor Timothy Lytton to CNN.

Bellis did not rule on the merits of the case, and left open the possibility that she could rule in favor of the gun manufacturers on a motion to strike the case later on.

However, her decision to allow the case to proceed was a major departure from the norm, according to Lytton.

“Courts normally decide first whether or not they think the legal theories are valid before they allow the parties—the plaintiff in particular—to run around and dig up evidence that might support their case in a trial,” Lytton said.

The gun companies have until Friday to file their motion to strike.

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