Posted: 4/30/2001 9:46:29 AM EDT
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A ruling by the state's top court that gun makers can't be held liable for shooting deaths and injuries because of their marketing practices is certain to have an impact on dozens of such cases nationwide, lawyers say.
The Court of Appeals's decision Thursday also probably dooms a $4 million federal court award to a New York City man who was left permanently disabled at age 15 when he was shot by a friend in 1994.
Gun makers said the unanimous decision will set an example 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 attorney Lawrence Greenwald, who represented Beretta USA and American Arms.
Lawyers for shooting 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 Stephen Fox of the New York City borough of Queens and his 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.
Beretta USA, American Arms and another gun maker, 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 New York Court of Appeals whether 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.