Sandy Hook Lawsuit: Families Appeal Gun Lawsuit to Connecticut Supreme Court

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Americans hold signs memorializing Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 children and educators were killed in a mass shooting on December 14, 2012, as they participate in the March on Washington for Gun Control in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 2013. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Some of the families affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre have filed an appeal of a judge’s recent dismissal of their lawsuit against the maker of the weapon used in the December 2012 shooting.

The appeal filed Tuesday in Appellate Court, with the hope of the Connecticut Supreme Court hearing the case, comes a month after a judge threw out their highly watched suit. In October, Fairfield District Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that federal law protects gun companies from legal action over firearms used in crimes. That measure, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), has prevented most liability suits brought by gun-violence victims and their families from moving to trial.

Nine families and a survivor of the Sandy Hook attack initially filed their lawsuit in December 2014 against the manufacturer, Remington Arms Co., along with the distributor and seller of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle. Adam Lanza used the weapon to shoot his way into the school in Newtown, Connecticut, and kill 20 first-graders and six educators in less than five minutes on December 14, 2012.

The suit alleges that the gun companies negligently entrusted the rifle to the public and violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act in marketing it to civilians. They are asking the high court to consider the scope of the state’s negligent entrustment, arguing that the sale of a military weapon violated CUTPA.

The families on Tuesday called the mass shooting a “singular event in Connecticut history.” They added: “Fifty-pound bodies were riddled with five, 11, even 13 bullets. This is not sensationalism. It is the reality the defendants created when they chose to sell a weapon of war and aggressively market its assaultive capabilities.”

In previous hearings before Bellis threw out the case in state court, the families’ attorneys argued that Remington was negligent because it made a military-style assault weapon available to the general public. They said the gun companies knew—or should have known—about the high risks posed by the firearm, including the ability for a shooter to use it to inflict maximum casualties and serious injury.

“The present case seeks damages for harms, including the deaths of the plaintiffs’ decedents, that were caused solely by the criminal misuse of a weapon by Adam Lanza. Accordingly, this action falls squarely within the broad immunity provided by PLCAA,” Bellis wrote in her 54-page decision last month. Earlier this year, Bellis first rejected the gun companies’ motion to dismiss the case in state court under PLCAA. The law was a campaign issue during the Democratic primary election, and Hillary Clinton made the promise of its repeal a central part of her gun-safety platform.

The Sandy Hook suit is one of the country’s highest profile cases against gun companies. Along with Remington, it names Camfour Inc., a distributor of firearms, and Riverview Gun Sales, the now-defunct dealer in East Windsor, Connecticut, that sold the rifle to Lanza’s mother in 2010.