More than 30,000 people die and many tens of thousands more are injured every year in the U.S. as a result of gunshot wounds, either self-inflicted or as a result of violence. Firearm manufacturers and dealers are largely shielded from liability by federal law. However, that does not mean they are totally immune.
Recently in Missouri, a pawn shop owner agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a woman whose mentally ill daughter shot and killed her father before attempting suicide on herself. Days before the incident, plaintiff had gone to the pawn shop to beg them not to sell her adult daughter a gun. Just weeks earlier, her daughter had purchased a firearm legally from the shop, only to use it to attempt suicide. Plaintiff explained to the shop owner that her daughter is schizophrenic and may be a danger to herself and others. This request was reportedly ignored.
While immunity statutes enacted by the federal government and 34 states protect gun shops and dealers – but there are exceptions. In 2005, Congress enacted a federal law that gives broad immunity to gun dealers from most civil liability actions asserting injury or death as a result of firearms.
The six exceptions to this blanket immunity are actions against:
- Someone convicted of knowingly selling/ transferring a firearm with the knowledge it will be use to commit a crime of violence;
- A seller for negligent entrustment;
- A manufacturer/ seller who knowingly violated state or federal statutes applicable to the sale or marketing of a firearm;
- A manufacturer/ seller for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the product purchase;
- A manufacturer/ designer/ seller for defective design or manufacture that, when used as intended or as reasonably foreseeable (and not in connection with a volatile act) is the sole proximate cause of personal injury;
- A manufacturer/ designer/ seller/ possessor who is the subject of an action by the U.S. Attorney General.
This settlement in Missouri doesn’t necessarily set a precedent (as the case wasn’t ultimately decided by a judge or jury), but it is indicative of the fact defendants felt they could not win in court.
And it’s not the first time since the passage of the 2005 federal law that victims of firearm accidents have been successful in attaining compensation. In a case out of Wisconsin last year, a state jury awarded $5 million to city police officers who were injured by shots fired by a man who illegally purchased the gun at defendant’s shop. That verdict is being appealed, but it’s illustrative of the type of claim that can be made.
In September, jurors in Redding, CA awarded $19 million to a little boy who accessed his grandfather’s unsecured, loaded gun and turned it on himself, causing profound and permanent personal injuries. The pistol was reportedly on the carpet in the playroom, next to the couch where his grandfather had fallen asleep. The boy picked up the gun and shot himself between the eyes.
Our personal injury lawyers know there have been other cases in which victims of gun violence have pursued third-party litigation against the property owner where the act took place. These are premises liability lawsuits, and assert separate theories of negligence than those spelled out in the 2005 law.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Missouri dealer settles $2.2M case over gun-shop liability, Nov. 22, 2016, By Bill Draper, Associated Press
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