Posted: 4/27/2001 10:11:51 PM EDT
Friday, April 27, 2001
ALBANY, N.Y. — A ruling by the state's top court that gun manufacturers cannot be held liable for shooting deaths and injuries is certain to have an impact dozens of such cases nationwide, lawyers for both sides say.
The Court of Appeals made the ruling Thursday in the case of seven shooting victims, including a Queens teen-ager's family that is now almost certain to have a $4 million federal court judgment thrown out. The court decided that gun makers cannot be held liable because of the supposedly negligent way the weapons were marketed and distributed.
Gun makers said the unanimous decision will set a precedent for judges across the country hearing about three dozen similar cases.
``It's an important decision, both from the standpoint of New York state law and from the standpoint of national litigation raising similar issues,'' said Lawrence Greenwald, a Baltimore lawyer who represented gun makers Beretta USA and American Arms.
But lawyers for the victims said the decision presents attorneys with a blueprint on how to successfully pursue other cases along the same legal grounds.
``We didn't reach the destination today, but the decision gives us guidance how to get there,'' said lawyer Marc Elovitz, who represented the Fox family. ``It was a road map and not a dead end.''
Fox and the relatives of six people killed by handguns won a verdict against gun makers in federal court in Brooklyn in 1999. Fox was permanently disabled when he was shot by a friend.
Three gun makers — Beretta USA, American Arms and Taurus International Manufacturing — were assessed damages of up to $272,000.
Gun makers were found liable in the six other instances, but no monetary damages were awarded in those cases.
The federal appeals court reviewing the verdicts at the urging of the manufacturers had asked the state Court of Appeals whether New York state laws support the finding of negligence in such a gun violence case.
Writing for the court, Judge Richard Wesley said lawyers for the gunshot victims alluded to ``broad'' and ``general'' ways that gun manufacturers are liable for handgun injuries, but they failed to show specifically how their sales and marketing led to their guns getting into the wrong hands.
A ``more tangible'' direct link is needed to show how the gun makers contributed to the injuries of gunshot victims and that the manufacturers ``were realistically in a position to prevent the wrongs,'' Wesley wrote.
Wesley explicitly ended his ruling by noting that a different marketing negligence claim involving a different set of circumstances might well win the next time around.
Chicago and Bridgeport, Conn., are among about two dozen municipalities that have sued gun manufacturers over the cost of crimes and injuries caused by handguns. In addition, about 10 shooting victims or their survivors are pursuing negligence suits against gun makers, Greenwald said.