(CN) – Bump-stock manufacturer Slide Fire learned Thursday it cannot avert claims that negligent marketing caused harm to attendees of an October 2017 concert where 58 people were killed and hundreds were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, in the U.S. District of Nevada, found Slide Fire’s “misrepresentations to the public concerning the safety and lawful status of bump stocks” to be a violation of Nevada law regarding deceptive trade practices.
For Navarro, this was enough to trigger an exception to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which says manufacturers and sellers of firearms “are not, and should not, be liable for the harm caused by those who criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products.”
In her 31-page ruling Thursday, Navarro said, “While the allegations are tenuous to establish proximate causation, they are sufficient to establish a predicate exception at the motion to dismiss stage.”
Concertgoers Devon Prescott, Brooke Freeman and Tasaneeporn Upright filed a class action against Slide Fire on Oct. 6, 2017, five days after the deadly shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Their lawsuit claims the shooter “may not have launched his military-style assault without a bump stock,” and sought an unspecified amount in damages for product liability, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.
Roughly 23 guns were found in the shooter’s hotel room, along with about a dozen bump stocks— an attachment that allows someone to fire rounds in rapid succession without pulling on a trigger.
Navarro said the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that Slide Fire knowingly made false statements on its website that its bump stock was “approved” by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Navarro also said she could not find that Slide Fire owed no duty to the plaintiffs because of the way Slide Fire marketed its bump stocks to skirt federal laws prohibiting machine guns.
“Assuming plaintiffs’ allegations are true, as the court must at this stage, then Slide Fire’s purposeful campaign to promote bump stocks as akin to machine guns establishes a foreseeable risk that third-party criminals may use bump stocks in furtherance of a military-style assault,” Navarro wrote.
She also found the plaintiffs had adequately showed that the shooter’s actions were a foreseeable result of Slide Rule’s marketing, distribution and sales.
Navarro dismissed the plaintiffs’ product liability claim as they do not explain how the bump stock failed to perform as expected, but granted them leave to amend. She also dismissed public nuisance and emotional distress claims.
"Judge Navarro's decision decided a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, which means she must accept all well pled facts as true in the Amended Complaint and give every benefit of the doubt to plaintiffs. Thus, she did not find that Slide Fire misrepresented anything to the general public,” said Tom Edwards, attorney for Slide Fire, in a statement. "Judge Navarro found that plaintiffs had adequately ‘alleged’ that Slide Fire made misrepresentations, and thus, plaintiffs' negligence count was 'plausible.’
Edwards also pointed out that Navarro had dismissed the majority of the complaint, adding, “While we believe plaintiffs' negligence count should have been dismissed at the pleading stage pursuant to federal and state law, we are confident that once discovery is complete and the facts are known, this lone remaining count will also be dismissed through summary judgment."
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