The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, backed by the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, guarantees the right of private citizens to possess firearms. It’s a hotly debated issue but one that legally is seen as largely settled.
One issue that is somewhat less certain is the liability of those who manufacture and deal arms. In 2005, Congress passed a law known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a federal statute that extends broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers in both state and federal courts. Generally speaking, the statute forbids qualified civil liability actions against gun manufacturers or dealers stemming from the criminal use or lawful misuse of a firearm. However, there are six exceptions to this blanket civil immunity, which involves things like transferring a gun while knowing it will be used for a violent crime, engaging in negligent entrustment, knowingly violating the law, or making or selling a gun that is defective.
A number of cases have cropped up recently that seek to push the boundaries of the PLCAA. One of those cases was decided late last year by a jury in Wisconsin, which ordered a gun store to pay $5 million in damages to police officers injured when they were shot by a suspect wielding a firearm purchased at the store. The officers had been trying to stop a bicycling 18-year-old, who opened fire on the cops, causing them serious injuries. It was later revealed the gun dealer had violated federal laws in selling the gun to the teen.
More recently, the Associated Press reports a pawn shop in Missouri has agreed to pay $2.2 million to a plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit, which alleged liability for the sale of a firearm to a woman who suffered from mental illness.
An attorney spokesperson for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence told the AP that the settlement had the potential to have a national impact following the enactment of the PLCAA. In this case, the plaintiff alleged her daughter purchased a gun in May 2012 from a pawn shop and attempted to kill herself. According to court records, the plaintiff and her husband took her daughter’s gun away and then went to the store in June and asked them not to sell any more firearms to her daughter. She explained her daughter suffered from schizophrenia and was a possible danger to herself and others. The plaintiff herself is a gun owner but didn’t want her daughter to hurt herself or someone else.
Despite this, the store sold the daughter a firearm just two days later. Within hours, authorities say she used that gun to fatally shoot her father and then attempt suicide. She survived and was committed to a mental institution.
Now, her mother says she doesn’t want to take anyone’s rights away, but she is firm in holding that certain people should not have guns, her daughter was one of them, and the pawn shop employees knew this – but sold her one anyway.
Defense lawyers fear that gun shop owners “now have to be psychologists.” They had argued before the Missouri Supreme Court that the PLCAA banned these kinds of lawsuits in the first place, and to allow this one to move forward may have a chilling effect on firearm commerce. The state high court affirmed the constitutionality of the PLCAA but ruled that the exemptions under the law permitted this claim to move forward. Specifically, they cited the exemption that bars sellers from completing a transaction involving a firearm when they know or reasonably should know the buyer will likely use the product in a manner involving an unreasonable risk of physical harm to themselves or others.
This particular store had been audited five times by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and on four occasions was found to have committed serious violations.
Similar catastrophic injury lawsuits based on gun cases are reportedly moving through state court systems in Florida, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Texas.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Missouri dealer settles $2.2M case over gun-shop liability, Nov. 22, 2016, By Bill Draper, The Associated Press
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