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Paul, Weiss Aids in Connecticut Win Allowing Gun Violence Victims to Sue Gun Makers

In a landmark ruling opening a path for gun violence victims’ families to hold gun makers accountable, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of claims filed by Sandy Hook victims’ families against the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of the AR-15 military assault rifle that was used to kill their family members in a 2012 attack in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Paul, Weiss submitted two amicus briefs in support of the families in the case, Soto et al. v. Bushmaster et al.

The court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claim that defendants’ advertisements promoting the AR-15’s suitability for combat-style missions and other illegal civilian uses constituted unfair practices under Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) and enhanced the lethality of the Sandy Hook shooting. A key issue in the suit was whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue under CUTPA even though they were not purchasers of the product at the heart of the suit.  

In a ruling described by The New York Times as a “major blow” to the firearms industry, the court overruled the trial court’s holding that plaintiffs lacked standing under CUTPA because they were third parties without a direct business relationship with defendants. In doing so, it adopted the position advocated by Paul, Weiss in an amicus brief filed with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In that brief, Paul, Weiss and Giffords conducted a comprehensive review of the treatment of comparable legislation in 50 states to argue that CUTPA did permit suits by non-purchasers. Analyzing both the plain language of the statute and comparable statutes from every other state in the country, the brief argued that CUTPA was modeled on multiple other statutes, all of which had been interpreted to provide standing, thus giving the court a road map to reverse the lower court’s decision.

Paul, Weiss also filed a second amicus brief in this action, on behalf of emergency room physicians and trauma surgeons who have treated patients shot by assault rifles, including in the mass shootings in Aurora, Columbine, Newtown, and San Bernardino. The physicians argued that the AR-15 and similar military assault weapons create a class of unacceptable emergencies and trauma and pose a severe public health risk. The court picked up on those descriptions in its opinion, explaining that these weapons can cause "maximum carnage with extreme efficiency." The court also cited the physicians’ explanation that assault weapons advertisements can activate people who are predisposed to violence.

The CUTPA amicus team was led by firm chairman Brad Karp and litigation partner Christopher Boehning, of counsel Joyce Huang and Sidney Rosdeitcher and litigation associate Kristina Bunting.

The ER physicians’ amicus brief was led by litigation associate Rebecca Dell and Rebecca Dell’s father, Michael Dell, a partner at Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel. Litigation partner Allan Arffa supervised the matter.

March 18, 2019

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