In the wake of a mass shooting, many survivors and loved ones search far and wide for answers. Some survivors and family members may be eligible to pursue legal action against negligent parties, holding individuals and property owners accountable for allowing an unspeakable tragedy to occur.
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After the unspeakable tragedy and horrific trauma of a mass shooting, many survivors, family members and loved ones find themselves lost in a world that seems to make little sense. How could something so devastating take place? How could life be so cruel? As moral, philosophical and spiritual questions, we may never find the answers that we seek. The grief and pain of losing a loved one or suffering severe injuries and emotional trauma don't just go away.
Pursuing A Mass Shooting Lawsuit
But on a practical level, some of our most pressing questions do have answers. What if something more could have been done to prevent the tragedy? What if someone could have intervened, early in the shooter's life, but failed to do so? What if better security could have prevented your loved one from being murdered or severely injured?
These are the important questions that a civil lawsuit, a private action filed on behalf of survivors and their loved ones, is designed to answer.
In dozens of wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits, survivors of mass shooting events stand beside the grieving families of those we have lost in pursuit of justice and accountability.
From Newtown to Las Vegas, these brave families are taking on gun manufacturers, property owners and social media giants, marshaling a vast array of legal theories to pursue compensation for their financial losses and force greater transparency. More important than compensation is the fight these parents are waging to hold accountable those who could have stopped senseless tragedy, but instead, did nothing.
Mandalay Bay & Negligent Security
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, where 60 people were murdered and over 650 were left injured, survivors and the families of victims have filed suit against Mandalay Bay, accusing the casino and resort company of failing to stop Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old conspiracy theorist who opened fire from a hotel room overlooking the Route 91 Harvest festival.
Plaintiffs claim that Mandalay Bay ignored Paddock's hotel room for three days as he prepared for the attack, failed to inform audience members of emergency exit procedures and failed to hire adequate security personnel for the event. Their lawsuit also points to an important legal principle, premises liability, that comes to the center of many mass shooting lawsuits.
Property owners have a sworn obligation to provide their guests and residents with a reasonable degree of security from foreseeable criminal activities. Mandalay Bay argues that a mass shooting lies outside the bounds of what should be considered "reasonably foreseeable," but the plaintiffs, highlighting the noticeable uptick in mass shootings at public events, argue that casinos and resorts now have an obligation to take reasonable precautions against mass violence.
It's conceivable that, while pursuing damages from a governmental entity is difficult, a similar argument could be leveled against schools where mass shootings take place. Also possible is that a college or university, like Virginia Tech, where in 2007 senior Seung-Hui Cho went on a killing spree that claimed 30 lives, could be held accountable under a theory of premises liability and negligent security.
Newtown & Gun Manufacturer Liability
The nation grieved when 20 first graders and six adults were senselessly murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The unspeakable tragedy brought the small town of Newtown, Connecticut to the center of a national conversation on gun control and mental illness, as parents and survivors of the shooting took action.
In December 2014, Newtown families sued Remington, the storied gun manufacturer behind the AR-15, the assault-style rifle used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza to carry out his devastating attack. The parents say the gun should never have been sold to Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother, because it "had no reasonable civilian purpose," Reuters reports. But their efforts were stymied by federal law, as Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis dismissed the families' claims by invoking the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.
The Protection Of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act
The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed by President George W. Bush, provides gun manufacturers with sweeping federal protection from liability when someone commits a crime with one of their products.
Exceptions to the law include "negligent entrustment," the Los Angeles Times notes, referring to cases in which the manufacturer knew or should have known that selling a weapon would involve "unreasonable risk of serious injury." A second carve-out exists to preserve "predicate statutes"; in essence, gun manufacturers can't break other laws, even though it might sound like the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act allows them to.
The families from Newtown argue that Remington violated a predicate statute, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, in marketing "a military weapon designed to inflict mass casualties to an untrained civil population, specifically targeting violence-prone young men." In court documents, the parents point to Remington ads, often positioned in violent video games, bearing slogans like, "forces of opposition, bow down" and "consider your man card reissued."
The case is now before the Connecticut Supreme Court, but has been put on hold as Remington moves through bankruptcy proceedings.
Now, in the latest development, over six families have filed suit against Alex Jones, the radio host and conspiracy theorist behind InfoWars.com. Soon after the attack in Newtown, Jones began to push a conspiracy theory about the massacre, saying Adam Lanza's actions had been a staged "false flag" attack. Later, Jones claimed the horrific murders had been entirely fake, referring to the victims as "child actors."
Multiple Newtown families have sued Jones for defamation, writing that he is "the chief amplifier for a group that has worked in concert to create and propagate loathsome, false narratives about the Sandy Hook shooting and its victims, and promote their harassment and abuse."
Terrorism & Social Media
When 29-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, his heinous actions would eventually lead to 49 deaths and 58 cases of severe injury. But it was the 911 call that he placed during the massacre that would ultimately lead to legal action. In his call, Mateen swore fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic State.
Six months after the gruesome attack, victims' families filed a civil lawsuit against Google, Facebook and Twitter, arguing that the web companies didn't do enough to stop IS supporters from radicalizing Mateen. In court documents, the families accuse the three internet giants of "providing material support to terrorists and foreign terrorist organizations," by allowing IS members to "post proselytizing videos on their sites, and by deriving revenue from targeted advertising on those sites."
While this argument was "conceivable," US District Judge David Lawson of the US District Court of Michigan wrote in his order dismissing the case, it was not "plausible." Judge Lawson granted a motion to have the case dismissed, ruling that Facebook, Google and Twitter are protected from liability by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which holds that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
A similar lawsuit has now been filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Parkland & Police Response
The shooting in Parkland on February 14, 2018 rocked the nation like few mass casualty events before it, drawing young people across the nation into the streets to march for gun control reform. Many survivors of the massacre, in which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people and injured 17 more, say legislators have utterly failed to do their part to protect children from the scourge of gun violence.
But smaller failures, just as momentous, have also been alleged. Several months after the shooting, the father of one victim filed suit against Scot Peterson, a school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who "did nothing" to stop the gunman. Reports suggest that Peterson waited outside the school during the attack, even as gunshots rang out from inside. Peterson denies that he acted inappropriately, but the father's suit makes clear that individual police officers can be pursued in court for alleged negligence.
Entire police forces can, too. Several survivors of the Parkland shooting have filed their own lawsuit against Broward County's Sheriff's Office, arguing that law enforcement failed to adequately protect the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Similar allegations are being leveled against the school itself, according to The Hill.