SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal judge has found makers of assault rifles used by a gunman to indiscriminately shoot at concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Musical Festival in Las Vegas in 2017 must face a wrongful death claim by the family of one of the 58 people killed.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon, a Barack Obama appointee, found in a 15-page order that Colt’s Manufacturing and other gun makers and dealers whose AR-15 rifles were used in the mass shooting could not dodge a lawsuit by one of the victim’s family.
Stephen Paddock used a dozen AR-15 rifles equipped with bump stocks to shoot 1,049 rounds at 22,000 concertgoers at the country music festival. He killed 58 people and injured hundreds.
The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Thirty-one-year-old Carrie Parsons was killed in the shooting. Her parents sued the gun manufacturers and dealers on wrongful death and negligence claims last year, arguing they flouted state and federal laws prohibiting the sale of machine guns by selling AR-15 weapons which had an “automatic design” and could be easily modified to fire automatically.
Gordon found the Parsons’ wrongful death claim was not barred by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act but found the state Supreme Court must decide how the Nevada Revised Statutes legislation should be interpreted on the claim.
Attorney Richard Friedman, one of the attorneys representing the Parsons family, said they believe they will win their case before the Nevada Supreme Court.
“We’re pleased that Judge Gordon certified these questions to the Nevada Supreme Court. We’re optimistic that the Supreme Court is not going to rule that the legislature intended to give immunity to companies that intentionally violate the law,” Friedman said.
Colt’s Manufacturing and the other gun manufacturers and dealers asked Gordon to dismiss the case, claiming they could not be held liable for the Las Vegas massacre because the PLCAA prohibits claims against firearms manufacturers and sellers for damages related to a third party’s misuse of a firearm.
“Plaintiffs have not, and cannot, sufficiently plead causation under Nevada law because the injuries and deaths at the music festival were caused by the criminal acts of the shooter,” the gun manufacturers argued in their motion to dismiss the case.
But in his order, Gordon found that the Parsons had pleaded facts showing alleged causation because the use of modified AR-15s in a mass shooting was “reasonably foreseeable.”
He compared the danger of AR-15s to that of machine guns, which prompted the creation of the National Firearms Act banning the fully automatic weapons.
“The Parsons plead facts showing that the defendants’ AR-15s could be easily modified with bump stocks to shoot automatically, which the shooter did with tragic results. So the Parsons have sufficiently alleged causation,” Gordon wrote.
But the judge found the Nevada Supreme Court must determine whether a wrongful death claim could be brought under the Nevada Revised Statutes, which applies the state’s Constitution.
Although the family’s wrongful death claim survived dismissal, Friedman filed a 4-page motion for partial reconsideration of Gordon’s dismissal of their negligence per se claim.
Gordon had found the gun manufacturers were not sellers within the PLCAA’s meaning and could not face negligence per se or negligent entrustment claims for allegedly violating the legislation.
“The Parsons’ negligence per se claim is premised on the defendants’ violations of federal and state prohibitions of machineguns. The Parsons do not provide, and I have not found, evidence of either Congress’s or the Nevada legislature’s intent to impose civil liability along with those prohibitions,” Gordon wrote.
But the Parsons argued in their filing Monday the state would recognize a cause of action for negligence per se in the current factual context of the case.
Attorneys for Colt’s Manufacturing and other gun manufacturers and dealers in the suit did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.