The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled by a 4-3 decision to revive a lawsuit brought by the families of Sandy Hook alleging that firearm manufacturer Remington recklessly marketed its Bushmaster AR-15-style weapon for “illegal, offensive purposes.”
Remington’s gun was used by Adam Lanza to murder 26 faculty and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A majority ruled in Soto v. Bushmaster that federal law failed to prohibit Remington from liability for wrongful advertising, thereby permitting a jury to determine whether or not the manufacturer can be held liable.
The decision is doubtlessly stunning to the firearm industry, which has long claimed immunity from such suits. Thursday’s ruling centered on the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act along with the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms. CUTPA, the more straightforward of the two, prohibits wrongful advertising, defined in part as marketing a product in an unethical, dangerous or otherwise unfair manner. The PLCAA, passed in 2005, limits the ability of Americans to sue manufacturers and sellers, guarding the industry against cases when its products are used illegally, even when their own negligence leads to injury or death. Due to the PLCAA, Sandy Hook families and loved ones of other mass shooting victims cannot sue gun sellers or manufacturers for negligent marketing or selling firearms.
Soto, however, revolved around a different legal theory, in which Sandy Hook families argued that Remington’s advertisements for their weapon ran afoul of CUTPA by promoting illegal use of their product. The families cited multiple ads that depicted the gun as a weapon of war meant to kill multiple targets in a small window of time.
According to Slate, Remington advertised its Bushmaster as “the ultimate combat weapons system” used by armed forces, depicting its weapon alongside the slogan “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.” Connecticut’s Supreme Court agreed with the Sandy Hook families, stating in its decision that Remington’s ads pitched a weapon that would “enable a shooter to inflict unparalleled carnage.”
While the PLCAA bars most negligence suits, it permits claims which allege that manufactures or sellers knowingly violated state or federal statutes applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms in which the violation was the proximate cause of harm. In short, if CUTPA applies, PLCAA would not prohibit suit.
While federal judges remain split on which laws apply to firearm manufacturers, Connecticut judges have drawn a line in the sand. While U.S. Supreme Court intervention on behalf of Remington is a distinct possibility, Connecticut’s decision could inspire lawmakers and lawyers to take a hard look at PLCAA.
The quicker it can be repealed, the better.