A Missouri gun shop agreed to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit for $2.2 million this month after the state Supreme Court ruled the trial could go forward. The case was the result of the store selling a gun to a mentally ill woman who used it to kill her father.
There are more than 33,000 firearms deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly 11,000 of them are classified as homicides. Of the 15,696 murders in the United States last year, almost three-quarters were committed using guns, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation report.
In the June 2012 Missouri shooting death, the victim's wife had previously pleaded with the storekeepers at Odessa Gun & Pawn Shop not to sell a gun to her schizophrenic daughter, but the dealer sold the woman a .45-caliber handgun anyway. That same day, the woman shot and killed her 61-year-old father then tried to kill herself. It was not the first time the woman had attempted suicide. A month earlier the woman had bought a gun at the same pawn shop and tried to kill herself. After she murdered her father, the woman was found not guilty based on her mental condition and she was committed to a state psychiatric institution. Then her mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the store.
Her case hinged on a point of law known as negligent entrustment, which arises when one person or entity is held liable for negligence when he or she provides another person with a dangerous instrument, such as a gun, and that person uses it to cause injury to themselves, or another person, or causes property damage. An attorney for the widowed mother argued the gun dealer should not have sold the weapon to someone they knew, or should have known, was potentially dangerous.
The settlement demonstrates the limitations of a 2005 federal law -- essentially an immunity law -- passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by President George W. Bush that shields firearms manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits. Exceptions to the law include some cases involving defective weapons or criminal behavior by a gun maker or dealer, including knowingly selling a weapon to someone who has failed a criminal background check. Or in the Missouri case, negligent entrustment.
The lawsuit initially was dismissed by a Missouri circuit court, but the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled to allow the lawsuit to move forward. Their decision was based on the argument that the plaintiff had previously warned the gun shop that her daughter was mentally ill and potentially dangerous. After the Supreme Court decision the store owners opted to settle the case instead of proceeding to a jury trial.
An attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which assisted with the lawsuit, found documents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showing the pawn shop had repeatedly violated federal gun laws, including failure to conduct a background check, failing to record the results of a background check and selling to someone who acknowledged being a straw buyer. A straw purchaser refers to a person who buys a gun for someone else.
If you have been harmed as a result of negligence, or if a loved one has died, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.