State Supreme Court Takes Up Gun Liability Case

Posted on Dec 12, 2015

Gun and firearm legislation are a hot topic in the media these days. A recent case provides a slightly different angle.

A Missouri mother filed a wrongful death claim against a pawnshop operator, claiming that it was negligent in selling her mentally ill daughter a gun that was used to kill her own father. The daughters now committed to a mental institution.

The claim appears to have been dismissed that the trial court level. However, that ruling was appealed. The issue on appeal is whether not federal statutes "preempt"a state law negligence claim against a gun dealer for injuries resulting from the use of a gun.

Preemption occurs when federal statutes are interpreted to "occupy the field" of the regulation of a certain area, thereby preventing the states from enacting laws that conflict with the federal statute or regulation.  The Supreme Court will have to determine whether or not the federal statute was intended to prevent lawsuits against gun dealers.

Even if the Court finds that this field of regulation is open to state law, it must decide whether or not Missouri state law allow such a claim. From the reports, it appears that many of the Justices posed hypothetical questions to test the logic of whether or not such suits should be allowed.

Holding one person legally responsible for the acts of another always presents special challenges. In some cases, Oregon law will allow such claims, but only if the potential defendant has some special responsibility or some special relationship with the third party that commits the harmful act.

Check out this 1993 Oregon Supreme Court decision that found the Department of Corrections was not responsible for an escaped prisoner who murdered a citizen.