By Rafael Olmeda
The families of two victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting on Wednesday sued the maker and seller of the weapon used in the rampage, claiming they should be held partially responsible for what Nikolas Cruz did with it.
The parents of Jaime Guttenberg and Alex Schachter want a judge to clear the way for them to claim damages against American Outdoor Brands, formerly known as Smith & Wesson, and Sunrise Tactical Supply. The Coral Springs store is where Cruz purchased the AR-15-style weapon used in the Feb. 14 shooting spree.
Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg, and Max Schachter “seek to hold defendants legally responsible for their complicity in the entirely foreseeable, deadly use of the assault-style weapons that they place on the market,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Broward Circuit Court.
Before the lawsuit can go forward, their attorneys said, judges have to clarify that gun manufacturers and sellers can be sued by victims.
“A confusingly written Florida statute stands in the way,” the attorneys wrote. “If the defendants claim that [the law] entitles them to immunity from such claims, and the courts agree,” the victims will be forced to pay the gun maker’s and seller’s legal fees instead of recovering damages.
The 2001 law, Florida Statute 790.331, explicitly prohibits state, county and city government agencies from suing businesses over the legal manufacture and sale of weapons that are later used unlawfully. The law is silent on whether victims can sue on those grounds.
The same law allows governments and victims to sue over defects in the weapons, but “the potential of a firearm or ammunition to cause serious injury, damage, or death as a result of normal function does not constitute a defective condition of the product.”
The Guttenbergs and Schachter want a judge to either declare that the law does not block them from collecting damages — or to declare the law unconstitutional.
Cruz, 19, bought his Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223 rifle legally a year before the shooting in Parkland.
Messages left for the attorney representing Sunrise Tactical Supply were not returned Wednesday. Attempts to reach American Outdoor Brands were unsuccessful.
The victims and their lawyers are planning a news conference Thursday in Miami to discuss the lawsuit.
A federal law passed in 2006 makes it more difficult to sue gun makers when criminals use the firearms they manufacture. The families of the victims of 2012’s Sandy Hook shooting are trying to sue Remington, maker of the AR-15 used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn.
It wasn’t clear Wednesday whether that law would have an effect on a civil lawsuit in Florida.
So far, lawsuits have been filed against Cruz, the family that took him in after his mother’s death and the school resource officer who stayed outside during the shooting. Numerous family members have sent notices of intent to sue the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the School Board of Broward County.