In 2015, there were 332 mass shootings in the United States. As of 7/2016, there have been approximately 199 mass shootings. If you are a victim of gun violence, you may have questions about the liability of gun manufacturers, retailers, and other business owners.
Who is Potentially Civilly Liable After a Mass Shooting?
While you may have a tort or personal injury claim against the shooter, many of these individuals will not have the financial resources to cover your damages. For this reason, victims may be more interested in filing a lawsuit against a negligent business. Unlike a “judgment-proof” shooter, gun manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses may have insurance policies and financial assets.
Businesses and Employers
If you are injured in a mass shooting at your workplace, you may be covered by workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation benefits typically include payment of your medical bills, wage loss payments, and vocational rehabilitation.
Unlike a traditional lawsuit, you will file a claim with a workers’ compensation insurance company or a government agency. If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. Every state’s workers’ comp system is different. It is important to follow your state’s process and procedures.
Non-employees may have a negligence lawsuit based on a failure to reasonably protect the victims. This may occur if someone did not provide adequate protection or failed to notify authorities of a known risk. Victims have filed negligence lawsuits against movie theaters, schools, psychiatrists, counselors, and the parents of shooters.
Gun Manufacturers and Retailers
Federal and state laws provide broad immunity to gun manufacturers and retailers. In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PCLAA). The PCLAA prevents mass shooting victims (and other victims of gun violence) from suing companies who make and sell firearms.
However, the PCLAA contains some exceptions. You may sue a manufacturer or retailer if:
- If it sold someone a firearm, knowing that the weapon would be used to commit a crime,
- If there is evidence of negligence,
- If the manufacturer knowingly violated a state or federal law concerning the sale and marketing of guns, and this violation resulted in your injury,
- There was a breach of contract or warranty relating to the purchase of the gun,
- A design defect in the firearm caused your injuries, or
- The Attorney General files a lawsuit to enforce the National Firearms Act.
There have been multiple lawsuits challenging the PCLAA’s constitutionality. To date, none of these challenges have been successful. However, some plaintiffs have successfully pursued claims within the PCLAA’s exceptions.
Currently, a group of Sandy Hook victims are suing Remington Arms (the manufacturer of the AR-15), a firearms distributer and a gun shop. The Sandy Hook plaintiffs have argued that the AR-15 is a military weapon and that giving it to the average citizen is negligent entrustment. A judge is currently considering whether this case will go to trial.
Additionally, 34 states have their own gun immunity laws, limiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers and retailers. These states include:
- New Hampshire,
- North Carolina,
- North Dakota,
- South Carolina,
- South Dakota,
- Washington, and
- West Virginia.
California became the first state to repeal its gun immunity law in 2002.
What Legal Defenses are Available for Defendants?
Again, the PCLAA and state laws offer significant immunity to gun manufacturers and retailers. Unless your claim fits within one of the PCLAA’s exceptions, you cannot file a personal injury claim against a company that makes or distributes firearms. Additionally, a defendant may have other defenses, such as contributory or comparative negligence.
What Potential Remedies Could Victims Claim?
A successful plaintiff may be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages in a mass shooting claim. Economic damages include compensation for medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages cover your pain and suffering.
Should I Speak with a Personal Injury Lawyer?
If you were injured in a mass shooting, it may be in your best interest to contact a lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights under state and federal law, identify the correct defendants, and guide you through the litigation process.