By Carolina Bolado
The families of two of the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took aim Wednesday at a state law shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits in a suit seeking to hold Smith & Wesson liable for the massacre.
The families of Jaime Guttenberg and Max Schachter, two 14-year-olds killed by shooter Nikolas Cruz, said in their suit that “a confusingly written Florida statute stands in the way” of their claims against the Massachusetts-based gun manufacturer and asked for clarity from the court on the law, which limits civil actions against gun makers, gun trade associations, distributors or dealers.
The law states that the manufacture and distribution of firearms is a lawful activity and that manufacturers and other companies involved in the gun trade cannot be held liable for their lawful actions unless their products are defective.
The statute also includes a provision saddling anyone who sues the gun makers with paying for all the economic losses the companies can attribute to having been sued if the court were to rule that the companies were entitled to immunity.
“That is not a financial risk the Guttenbergs and Schachter can, or should have to, afford,” the families said.
To “avoid the risk of crushing financial liability,” the families are asking the court to declare that the state law does not prohibit them from bringing claims for damages or injunctive relief against Smith & Wesson. If the court reads the statute to shield the company, then the families alternatively seek a declaration that the law violates their constitutional right of access to the courts.
In addition to Smith & Wesson, which is also known as American Outdoor Brands, the families are suing Sunrise Tactical Supply LLC, which sold Cruz the Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle, commonly known as an AR-15, that he used to kill students at the high school.
The families argue that though the state law at issue expressly bars most civil suits against gun makers by governmental entities, nothing in the law explicitly bans a lawsuit by a private party.
“The statute lacks any express indication that the legislature intended to abrogate an individual cause of action for common law torts against a firearms manufacturer or seller,” the families said.
They point to the staff analysis of the bill that specified the entities prohibited from bringing suits against gun makers are the state or its agencies, counties, municipalities, special districts or other political subdivisions.
A representative for Smith & Wesson could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Guttenberg and Schachter families are represented by Stephen F. Rosenthal, Steven C. Marks, Dayron Silverio and Kristina Infante of Podhurst Orseck PA, and Patrick Montoya, Curtis B. Miner and Julie Braman Kane of Colson Hicks Eidson PA.
Counsel information for the defendants was unavailable Wednesday.
The case is Guttenberg et al. v. American Outdoor Brands Corp. et al. in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. The case number was unavailable.