Begging to Be Overruled


As Brian Doherty noted a couple of days ago, this week a Florida judge threw out a verdict holding a gun distributor partly responsible for the murder of a schoolteacher. Supporters of the Second Amendment and sensible product liability rules were not the only ones who welcomed the decision, which negated a $1.2 million damage award. Oddly, some of the jurors were happy too. The forewoman told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel:

"I think it's the best thing that could have happened to Valor [the distributor]. I think this thing never should have gone to trial in the first place. A gun doesn't kill people. People kill people….The gun did exactly what it was supposed to do. Nathaniel Brazill [the killer] is 100 percent responsible in my opinion."

Another juror echoed the sentiment:

"I don't think Valor was responsible for the whole situation….I'm happy that Valor didn't have to come up with this kind of money. I didn't feel the gun was at fault."

The forewoman explained that

the language in the verdict form was confusing. "It didn't allow us to put the blame where it was supposed to go, and the two other jurors didn't want to budge," she said, adding that jurors reached a compromise because they sat through the case for six weeks and didn't want to end up deadlocked.

Hence the weird verdict, in which the jury assigned 5 percent of the blame to Valor, the rest to the school district and the gun's owner. (Neither Brazill nor the gun's manufacturer, now out of business, were defendants in the lawsuit.) The attempt to reconcile irreconcilable positions also explains how the jury could conclude that the gun was not defective even while saying that Valor should be liable for selling it without "feasible safety measures"–a kind of defect.

NEXT: Anti-Dance Parties

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  1. Where was the option of putting any financial liability on the shooter? While this judge threw out the jury verdict, it was only after the gun purchaser and the school district settled out of court.

  2. I’m still waiting to see what the gun feels about its own guilt or innocence. Maybe it will issue a press release.

  3. If I think the verdict is defective, can I sue?

  4. So the gun company was out of business, thus couldn’t be sued. What happens when something like this occurs with a gun that has a manufacturer that’s still in business? Will juries hold them accountable for failing to make their inherently dangerous objects safe for children? The idea of making guns ‘safe’ would be totally laughable if there weren’t people out there who took it seriously. I for one support letting the free market decide which ‘safety’ features make it into firearms, and not slick lawyers and insane juries.

  5. The same [getting one’s ass sued off] should hold true when a gun manufacturer advertises their product as “having excellent fingerprint resistance,” or some such thing.

    You appear to be citing a bastardized version of the Navegar case, which had serious shortcomings on the issue of proximate causation. In Navegar, no evidence was presented that Gian Luigi Ferri had even seen the challenged ad, much less acted in reliance on it. That alone should have gotten the case tossed out, with hefty sanctions on the attorneys who brought it.

    Even if it could be shown that a criminal actually bought a weapon because he believed a questionable representation in an ad like Navegar’s, that still should not be enough to find liability. All it would prove is that the ad influenced his choice between competing brands, not that it influenced his decision to commit the crime in the first place. Does anyone seriously believe that Ferri’s victims would have fared any better if Ferri had used a Colt, a Ruger or a Glock instead?

  6. If a company threw a much of hypodermic needles in a package that read “Fun for Kids!” and distributed them to ToysRUs, they’d get their asses sued off. The same should hold true when a gun manufacturer advertises their product as “having excellent fingerprint resistance,” or some such thing. The concept of negligent distribution is perfectly reasonable.

    But not in this case. The complaintant seemed to be arguing that any distribution of a pistol capable of shooing bullets is negligent. Nonsense.

  7. Cheese tastes good!

  8. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/28/2004 05:20:06
    To go to war with untrained people is tantamount to abandoning them.

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