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Sandy Hook families settle suit with AR-15 gun maker

The deal pulls in $73 million from companies that insured the bankrupt Remington Arms Company while also allowing the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting to disclose any documents they acquired in discovery.

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — A lawyer for Connecticut families linked to the 2002 mass shooting that left six educators and 20 first-graders dead lauded a long-fought settlement on Tuesday as only the beginning in their fight with the American gun complex.

“I would say stay tuned,” said attorney Josh Koskoff at a press conference, noting that his team is still going through the hundreds of thousands of documents they obtained from the gun manufacturers in the lead-up to a notice of settlement filed Tuesday in Superior Court.

Insurers for the bankrupt Remington Arms Company and its subsidiaries have agreed to pay the Sandy Hook Elementrary School families the maximum amount of funds available to them, $73 million, and also allow them to release the thousands of documents they obtained in discovery.

Koskoff noted that the lawsuit was never about the money but about bringing change, an outcome finally in reach after years of litigation has exposed weaknesses in the federal law that shields the gun industry.

Likening the suit to litigation against Big Tobacco cases and more recently opioid manufacturers, Koskoff said the companies in all of these cases have a common denominator when it comes to greed and “excessive marketing.”

“When human beings are gathered together simply to make a profit, and they don’t believe that they can be held responsible for anything, bad things happen,” Koskoff said.

Tuesday's settlement comes about about six months after the Sandy Hook families rejected a previous offer from two of the four insurance companies because discovery in the case was still ongoing.

The families brought the suit in December 2014, accusing Bushmaster Firearms of negligently marketed the AR-15-style gun used in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

After the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed the case to move forward, the U.S. Supreme Court declined in 2019 to bring the case on a detour to Washington. The Sandy Hook families later obtained Remington’s bankruptcy records.

Dru Stevenson, a law professor who researches gun violence at South Texas College of Law, said the Sandy Hook families and the gun manufacturer could have settled years ago — as early as 2019 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case — if the case was only about the money. 

“The main thing the plaintiffs wanted, in my opinion, was the internal company documents that reveal how sinister the company's decisions were — and that was the main thing the company did NOT want to disclose,” Stevenson wrote in an email. 

According to the notice filed into the case, the judge will hold a status conference to “further report on the settlement.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade organization of gun manufacturers, said in a statement that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act will continue to deflect civil lawsuits leveled against gun manufacturers alleging they are liable for the use of their products. It noted the settlement came about because of discussions with the bankrupted company’s insurance companies.

Insisting that their side could have prevailed at trial, the foundation said the Sandy Hook families would have faced a steep climb to hold the gun makers liable.

“The plaintiffs never produced any evidence that Bushmaster advertising had any bearing or influence over Nancy Lanza’s decision to legally purchase a Bushmaster rifle, nor on the decision of murderer Adam Lanza to steal that rifle, kill his mother in her sleep, and go on to commit the rest of his horrendous crimes,” the foundation said.  

Alinor Sterling, an attorney who also represented the Sandy Hook families, meanwhile noted that other attorneys are using their case as a model to bring other suits against the gun industry.

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