By Catherine Wilson
The parents of two victims of the Parkland school shooting are seeking a court order to clarify the breadth of a state law imposing heavy financial penalties on plaintiffs that sue gun makers and retailers.
The Broward Circuit Court lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks a declaratory judgment saying the victims’ parents would not risk payment for stock price drops and lost company revenue under a 2001 Florida law that explicitly bars suits by public agencies against the gun industry if their products are used illegally.
“It’s amazing to me to watch this culture of fear that has evolved around this industry,” Frederic Guttenberg said Thursday at a Miami news conference announcing the gateway-issue suit. His 14-year-old daughter Jaime was chased down a third-floor hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School before being shot to death Feb. 14.
Podhurst Orseck attorney Stephen Rosenthal in Miami, who represents Guttenberg and his wife Jennifer, said the goal is to obtain an order saying the families do not risk financial ruin if they follow up with lawsuits for damages.
The defendants in the complaint for declaratory relief are Massachusetts-based American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly Smith & Wesson, and Sunrise Tactical Supply LLC, the Coral Springs store that sold the AR-15 rifle used by accused shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Guttenberg is suing along with Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the mass shooting. Schachter is represented by Julie Braman Kane of Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables.
“We expect the court to uphold the statute,” Kane said, meaning the judge would agree with her interpretation allowing individual lawsuits for damages.
The law in dispute bars government lawsuits against the gun industry but contains “a cryptic and confusing reference to suits by private individuals” listing an exception for individual suits over defective products, the complaint said.
“This is the only industry where there appears to be a protected class,” Guttenberg said. “We need to change the course of history as it relates to guns.” He followed up with a November election pitch to “fire those who refuse to do something.”
A separate lawsuit filed since the Parkland shooting by 20 municipalities and 61 elected officials seeks to reverse a pre-emptive state law barring lower-level public agencies from adopting gun control measures that are stricter than state law. The law opens violators to $5 million fines.
There was no immediate response to requests for comment from American Outdoor Brands. A call to Sunrise Tactical Supply reached L&M Guns & Ammo at the same address; the man who answered the phone said “ma’am” and hung up.
Other lawsuits filed by families after the school shooting left 17 people dead have named as defendants Cruz; the estate of his late mother, Lynda; a couple who let Cruz move in with them after she died; three mental health centers where Cruz was treated; and a since-fired school resource officer.