Sandy Hook v Remington Settlement
Why it matters
Sandy Hook Elementary made headlines for a horrific tragedy – the killing of 20 first-graders and six school employees. On December 14, 2012 at 9:30 am, Adam Lanza shot to death members of the school, his own mother, and then turned the gun on himself. At the time, the Sandy Hook shooting was the second deadliest in all U.S. history – second only to the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.
The Gun Manufacturer
The company that manufactured the weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting was Remington. Specifically, that gun was a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle. Remington was founded in New York in 1816 by Eliphalet Remington. It was one of the oldest gun makers in the country. In 2015, it was noted to be the largest rifle manufacturer in North America. They developed more cartridges than any other ammunition and gunmaker in the entire world.
Remington filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with over $950 million in debt in 2018. Within several months, the bankruptcy was exited as the company was pre-approved for a restructuring plan. By July of 2020, the gun maker filed once again for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. All assets were divided and sold amongst a variety of interested buyers. This was the end of Remington as a company.
Remington had changed their marketing tactics recently before the Connecticut shooting in 2012. Connecticut law bans deceptive marketing practices. Remington’s marketing team shifted gears to reach the ‘tactical market’. Images of people using Remington’s guns at the shooting range were shown wearing full tactical gear. This set the tone and theme for the use of the guns and who they were targeting in terms of their marketing audience.
Remington Benefited from its pedigree as a military-grade weapons provider. Their marketing shifted to include the ‘military feel’ for the average American. This is what contributed to the everyday person feeling inclined to purchase a military-style Remington weapon so they could feel a part of the tactical community. But, what purpose does a tactical weapon serve to the average American?
Sandy Hook Lawsuit
The Sandy Hook wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the families of the victims. They subsequently sued Remington Outdoor Company (ROC). Remington was the parent company of Bushmaster at the time, the company that was responsible for manufacturing and marketing the weapon used to kill the students and staff.
Protection Of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act
Traditionally, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects gun manufacturers from liability when their product is used in a crime. This Act was created to provide gun manufacturers immunity and extends protections over gun dealers as well. The Act only applies if the weapons are used illegally. Remington attempted to use PLCAA as a defense to alleviate liability – but it did not work. The plaintiffs in the case focused on Remington’s dangerous marketing tactics.
Plaintiffs argued that Remington was negligent with its marketing strategy. Lawyers argued Remington intentionally marked its assault weapons to young, unstable males. The company promoted images of violence and power in an attempt to sell more products to the general public. The lawyers claimed Remington’s marketing could easily reach and target someone like Lanza, who was susceptible to the imagery and the message.
The purpose of this lawsuit – and those of similar nature – is to punish a company for reckless marketing messages. This type of lawsuit aims to discourage other companies from the same irresponsible behavior and marketing strategies. People’s lives depend on it.
Marketing in a way that promotes dangerous, illegal, or harmful behavior is irresponsible. It also promotes customers to use a product or service in that way. This is dangerous for consumers and the general public.
Although marketing firearms are not regulated beyond advertising platforms such as Google ads and Facebook, there are no specific rules. Advertisers have had free reign to advertise how they please and continually bombard the audience with the messages they want to enforce and reinforce. The lawsuit was creative and ingenious. The focus is not gun control or gun rights. Lawyers chose to pursue how guns can be marketed and what messages can legally be conveyed. Gun manufacturers can and should be held responsible for these messages.
Remington Appeals Case
The lawsuit battle continued up until 2019 when the Supreme Court inevitably rejected Remington’s appeal to the liability lawsuit for wrongful death. The Connecticut Supreme court ruled 4-3 in giving the Sandy Hook lawsuit permission to move forward to trial. The plaintiffs utilized the lawsuit strategy in Connecticut state law and were successfully able to remove the PLCAA liability protection from the gun maker.
During the process of Remington filing the appeal to block the case from moving to the Supreme Court, the company had already filed its first round of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Within the year, they had filed again. Although the company had sold off all of its assets and stocks, the original Remington – before it had been purchased by other companies – was still being held liable for the wrongful death, negligence, and liability.
Remington Attempted to Settle
Remington’s lawyers approached the Sandy Hook family members with a proposed settlement. They were currently going through their final bankruptcy procedures. They initially proposed a $33 million settlement – with each family receiving around $3.66 million. The families immediately rejected the settlement offer. They were focused on discovery and obtaining more evidence to support their case. The families wanted to force Remington to provide more evidence – something the company fought very hard to keep away from the public.
The Importance Of Evidence
In many ways, the evidence in this case was so important. Lawyers for Remington fought and delayed every deadline. When Remington did comply, it often overwhelmed the families with junk files. Plaintiff’s lawyers had to literally sift through tens of thousands of social media posts, videos, and emojis.
The Final Settlement
In early 2022, the plaintiffs announced a settlement was reached with insurance carriers for Remington Outdoor Company. The families did not stop until they reached the maximum amount of money that Remington’s four insurance carriers could offer – a whopping $73 million. Remington’s insurance carriers were responsible for this settlement, not Remington itself.
The settlement is more than double the previous offer and includes the public release of all evidence gathered in the case so far. By settling on February 15, 2022, Remington just barely avoided the February 17, 2022 deadline to release additional documents related to marketing and promotion practices. It’s possible the case could have reached a total of $1 billion in settlement costs.
What This Settlement Means
This landmark case set legal precedence going forward in terms of gun violence and how marketing plays a role. Every case of a similar nature might now utilize this tactic to hold gun manufacturers responsible. It’s important to remember, to date, no lawsuit has resulted in a jury holding a gun maker liable for a mass shooting. Cases like this are changing the legal landscape.
Not About Gun Control
It’s important to remember this case is not about gun control. It’s about responsible marketing. Gun manufacturers and distributors can no longer lean on complete immunity in mass shootings. Companies can be sued for how they market their weapons and the people they target with marketing messages.
New Jersey has already jumped on board the case precedence and is actively pursuing a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. The state is filing a claim against the gun maker based on its marketing strategies.
Does This Open the Door for More Lawsuits?
There are several factors to consider regarding similar lawsuits filed in the future. The Sandy Hook lawyers representing the families used a provision of the PLCAA to move forward with their claim. The provision allows civil claims when a gun manufacturer violates state law. In this situation, false claims in advertising or promotion of a product. Currently, there are several other lawsuits to test PLCAA protections.
Several factors that may prevent similar lawsuits in the future can include:
- Some analysts believe current manufacturers would mount a stronger legal defense (Remington’s insurance carriers settled the claim) – but this could backfire as the claim would likely proceed to a jury.
- Gun manufacturers might review and change their marketing.
- Lawmakers in several states have already enacted bills to strengthen PLCAA protections – granting specific immunity for marketing messages. How irresponsible is that?
What is Next?
After the groundbreaking win against a major gun manufacturer, the legal precedence is set. Marketing messages are being altered and some state lawmakers are utilizing their powers to continue protecting gun makers and distributors. Fixing dangerous marketing messages is important.
The fate of future cases lies in the hands of the law and the ability of either the plaintiff or defendant to prove their case. Yet no matter the settlement and the ability to hold gun makers responsible – no amount of money will ever replace or bring back a loved one.
Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers
Civil claims against gun manufacturers are a difficult battle. If you are searching for an attorney to represent yourself or a loved one, please contact us today.