Internet Gun Exchange Host Not Liable for Death, 7th Circuit Rules

Lawsuits against online providers who facilitate gun sales between private buyers and sellers will likely not go far, if the recent ruling handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is any indication.
Although disappointing, the ruling in Vesely v. Armslist LLC is not all that surprising, given the legal precedent set by previous cases involving sites like Craigslist and EBay. Our Rock Hill injury lawyers know it’s generally been held that these kinds of “online marketplaces” can’t be held liable for the negligence or criminal wrongdoing of their customers.

Specifically, 47 U.S.C. ยง 230 may preclude some of these lawsuits because it says operators of interactive computer services aren’t responsible for material posted by users.

Still, that wasn’t the theory upon which the court relied in rejecting this case. Instead, the appellate court cited Illinois tort law, which indicates that in order to prove negligence, a plaintiff needs to show a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty of care and an injury proximately caused by that breach. That’s universal in most states. In this case, however, the court found the plaintiff could not show the defendant website operator owed the victim a duty of care.

This case started online, although first on a dating website. That’s where an immigrant from the Czech Republic living in Chicago first met a Russian immigrant living in Canada. The pair dated briefly, but it was not long before the woman ended the relationship. Enraged, the jilted ex-boyfriend began stalking her over the course of the next two years.

In 2011, he visited the website, which facilitates gun sales in much the same way one might use Craigslist. Although the site expressly states that it forbids the illegal sale of guns, no one working for the company vets the deals to make sure they pass legal muster. Here, the ex-boyfriend found a man in Washington willing to sell him a gun for $400 – half of which was for the convenience of overlooking the fact that state law barred the sale. Private sellers of guns aren’t allowed to sell directly to out-of-state or international buyers.

Several weeks later, he killed his ex-girlfriend. After criminal trials, the ex-boyfriend was sentenced to life in prison, while the private gun seller was sentenced to one year in prison.

The woman’s brother pursued litigation against, alleging the company had a duty to the public to conduct the business in a reasonable manner, and that by failing to vet gun sales, it failed in this duty.

The court rejected this argument. It noted the only way the company could be held liable for the criminal actions of a third party would be if it owed some duty of care to the victim arising out of a special relationship. Here, no special relationship existed, the court found, and therefore no duty of care was established and the case was dismissed.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Vesely v. Armslist LLC, Aug. 12, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
NC Court of Appeals Halts Case for Finding of Contributory Negligence, Aug. 5, 2014, Rock Hill Injury Lawyer Blog

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