Could firearm manufacturers lose their immunity from wrongful death claims?

by | Nov 19, 2020 | Wrongful death

Since 2005, weapon manufacturers have enjoyed much protection against wrongful death claims and other injury lawsuits, all thanks to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

That may soon change.

In late September, a Pennsylvania court ruled that the PLCAA is unconstitutional. If the ruling stands through the inevitable appeals, it could lead to sweeping changes to the way that gun deaths are litigated throughout the nation.

What does the PLCAA do?

The PLCAA is a federal law that says civil claims can’t be pressed against the manufacturers and distributors of firearms when those firearms are misused by others either criminally or unlawfully. It has been a powerful tool for firearms companies that have sought to shield themselves from liability related to gun violence.

In this case, the wrongful death claim involved a PA teen who accidentally killed his friend by firing what he thought was an unloaded gun in the friend’s direction. The teen had removed the semi-automatic gun’s clip but didn’t realize that left a bullet behind. According to the lawsuit, the gun design was defective because a safety device would have been cheap to install and could have easily prevented the tragedy.

Initially, the case filed by the victim’s parents was dismissed, but the appeals court has now ordered it back to trial.

Why did the court say the PLCAA is invalid?

Essentially, the PA Superior Court judge stated that the law violates the 10th Amendment, which gives the authority to the states and not the federal government to regulate anything that is not specifically delegated or prohibited by the Constitution.

While it’s too early to tell how all this will play out, it’s important to note that the court’s ruling could effectively end much of the blanket immunity weapons manufacturers and gun shops have long enjoyed.

If your loved one was killed due to another party’s negligent or reckless acts, find out more about what it takes to make a wrongful death claim. An experienced legal advocate can guide you in this process.