The families of five children and four adults killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School have settled a lawsuit with the now-bankrupt gun manufacturer that made the weapon used in the massacre.
The nine families originally filed a lawsuit against Remington Arms in December 2014, claiming the Bushmaster rifle shouldn’t have been sold to the public because it is a military-style weapon, NPR reports.
As part of the settlement, Remington’s four insurers have agreed to pay the full amount of coverage available, which totals $73 million. The settlement also requires the manufacturer to release thousands of pages of internal company documents.
The suit accused Remington of “prioritizing profit over public safety.” It also accused the manufacturer of violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) when it “knowingly marketed and promoted the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle for use in assaults against human beings.”
Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said this is believed the be the first damages award of this size against a U.S. gun manufacturer following a mass shooting. In previous cases, gunmakers have “managed to invoke immunity and avoid liability, which just underscores how significant and unique the Sandy Hook outcome is,” Skaggs wrote in an email to NPR.
A 2005 federal law protects many gun manufacturers from wrongful death lawsuits brought on my family members but the marketing argument was what made this lawsuit unique, according to CNN. Lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed the company’s marketing strategy praised the militaristic qualities of the rifle and reinforced the image of a combat weapon.
Remington had proposed settling with the families for $33 million last year. In July, Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the victims’ families, said his clients turned the offer down because of its “glaring inadequacy.” rejected an attempt by Remington to prevent the company from being sued.
In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by Remington to prevent the company from being sued, which allowed the suit to move forward. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2020 — the second time in just over two years — and its assets were sold off.
“These nine families have shared a single goal from the very beginning: to do whatever they could to help prevent the next Sandy Hook. It is hard to imagine an outcome that better accomplishes that goal,” Koskoff wrote in a statement Tuesday. “This victory should serve as a wake-up call not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up. For the gun industry, it’s time to stop recklessly marketing all guns to all people for all uses and instead ask how marketing can lower risk rather than court it.”
Following Tuesday’s announcement, President Joe Biden praised the “perseverance of nine families who turned tragedy into action.”
“They have demonstrated that state and city consumer protection laws – like Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act – provide an opportunity to hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for wrongdoing despite the persistence of the federal immunity shield for these companies,” he wrote in a statement. “Together, we can deliver a clear message to gun manufacturers and dealers: they must either change their business models to be part of the solution for the gun violence epidemic, or they will bear the financial cost of their complicity.”
During a news conference to celebrate the settlement, Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son, Dylan, was killed in the shooting, called it a “landmark, historic victory.” Hockley said the thousands of internal documents the plaintiffs obtained “paint a picture of a company that lost its way,” and that the families are looking forward to sharing the documents with the public.
“Nothing will bring Dylan back. The closest I get to him now is by kissing his urn every night, telling him I love him and I miss him,” she continued. “But I made him a promise, and I’ll keep working to deliver that promise for the rest of my life.