Defective Guns - Is There Liability?
Some politicians, and some gun manufacturers, think that there is complete immunity for such manufacturers for negligent or wrongful behavior, no matter the circumstances. Here’s why: in 2005 Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). This statute does give the gun industry broad immunity. But it is not absolute.
The PLCAA has a few exceptions that can be used to find gun manufacturers liable. If a manufacturer or seller knowingly falsifies federal or state records, sells a gun to someone who is prohibited from owning a gun, or manufacturers a gun with a design defect that results in injury or death, there can be civil liability.
The issue of civil liability for gun sellers and manufacturers has become very controversial because of the power of the gun lobby and the efforts of the gun control lobby to stem the proliferation of assault weapons.
The tragedy of mass shootings and the rise of terrorist activity have also heightened this controversy. Some efforts have been made to circumvent the reach of the PLCAA by using causes of action that may not be in violation of its provisions. For example, following the horrible tragedy of the mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut some families filed suit based on the cause of action for negligent entrustment. The Trial Court dismissed the case and it is now before the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Whatever the outcome of the Newtown case, it seems clear that cases involving injury or death caused by defective firearms fall outside the immunity provisions of the PLCAA. In this respect they would be like any other product liability case.
Under Alabama law and the laws of most states, products that are unreasonably dangerous will result in civil liability to the manufacturer if the defect results in injury or death. The difference between product liability cases involving guns and those involving other products is based on the nature of the product itself. Guns are designed to kill. Other products are not. So it can be said that all guns are dangerous. That is why a successful case against a gun manufacturer must be based on a defect in the gun itself.
An example of that would be the lawsuits that have been filed against Brazilian gun manufacturer Taurus. These guns were alleged to have a design flaw that would allow them to discharge when they were dropped even when the safety was in place. This past summer Taurus reached a class action settlement of $239 million because of this defect.
Of course, another area of liability arising from the use of guns would be accidental shootings. Gun owners are not protected from the PLCAA, only manufacturers and sellers are. Guns are dangerous and their use requires special care. When the proper safety measures are not observed resulting in injury or death the user of the gun could be held liable.