Manufacturers and distributors can be held liable for injuries caused by product defects under theories of product liability, but what about non-defective – but dangerous – products like a gun?
A New York appellate court recently held that the plaintiff could proceed in his lawsuit against a gun manufacturer and distributor for injuries that he sustained when he was shot in 2003. The plaintiff sued the manufacturer and distributor of the Hi-Point 9 mm semi-automatic “Saturday Night Special” handgun.
According to this article, the appellate court allowed the case to move forward because the plaintiff’s claims fell within exceptions contained in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Although manufacturers and distributors are generally immune from lawsuits over gun violence under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), the law does contain certain exceptions whereby manufacturers and distributors can be held liable. Among the exceptions are situations in which the businesses knew or have reason to known that the guns they sold would be used illegally.
The lawsuit alleges that a gun trafficker James Bostic bought 181 guns from an Ohio dealer, Charles Brown, over a six-month period in 2000. Brown purchased the guns using cash through a straw purchaser named Kimberly Upshaw. Cornell Caldwell obtained one of the guns and used it to shoot the plaintiff. According to the lawsuit, plaintiff alleges that Bostic picked out and paid for the guns while Upshaw filled out the paperwork, which should have signaled to Brown that a straw purchase was occurring, the distributor should have known that he was selling guns to a gun trafficking ring.
This is the first case in which a court has held that a gun manufacturer may be held liable under the PLCAA, according to the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The lawsuit could open the door to additional lawsuits against gun manufacturers and distributors, according to Jonathan Lowy, the Brady Center attorney who argued the appeal for the plaintiff.
“Cases like this send a powerful message to those bad apples in the gun industry who want to profit from the criminal gun trade thinking that they’re above the law and they’ll never have to pay the cost when innocent people are shot,” Lowy said. “And cases like this send a message that even if you don’t care about the human consequences, if you care about your bottom line you should act responsibly.”