Lawsuits piling up following Parkland school shooting

By Carrie Bradon | May 27, 2018

Following the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, parents and other survivors are taking measures to prevent another massacre, including families suing gunmaker American Outdoor Brands, formerly Smith & Wesson, as well as the store that sold the shooter the weapon for alleged complicity in the shooting.

Allegedl Parkland High shooter Nikolas Cruz legally purchased an M & P 15 rifle about a year before he went on his rampage.   www.smith-wesson.com

FORT LAUDERDALE – Following the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, parents and other survivors are taking measures to prevent another massacre, including families suing gunmaker American Outdoor Brands, formerly Smith & Wesson, as well as the store that sold the shooter the weapon for alleged complicity in the shooting.

In the wake of the Valentine's Day massacre that claimed 17 lives, parents are taking action, hoping to seek justice for their lost loved ones, as well as make schools everywhere safer.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed, such as a wrongful death lawsuit by Andrew Pollack, a parent of a victim, who is alleging wrongful death against Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson and Nikolas Cruz, the gunman. 

Two survivors announced that they will sue the school and the FBI, in addition to the local sheriff's office for failing to do more to prevent the incident. 

Yet another lawsuit has been filed by the families of two victims, who are suing the manufacturer of the weapon used by Cruz, , claiming that the maker was implicit in the shooting. 

Peter M. Vujin, a Miami attorney, had this to say: "I do deduce from the word 'foreseeable' as alleged by the Guttenbergs and Schachter that they may be suing the arms makers under the negligence theory. Further, pursuant to my review of the actions pending under Pollack vs. Cruz, and Borges vs. Cruz, it is obvious to me that Messrs. Pollack and Borges sued under the 'negligence' theory," Vujin told Florida Record. 

Vujin explained that under common law, every person owes every other person what is called "reasonable duty of care." This essentially means that one can be guilty of inaction, even if they had no bad intentions, simply for not doing what they should have done to prevent the pain of another individual.

"The Legislature – full of attorneys – obviously knew this in 2001 when they voted the in Section 790.331 to try to insulate the guns manufacturer from liability. If you notice, the section applies strictly to the actions of the state of Florida. In effect, the Legislature elevated gun manufacturers in the state to a level above state government's scrutiny," Vujin said. 

This new classification of gun manufacturers, however, is under more scrutiny than the actual state government is, in Vujin's opinion, an "abandonment of the state government's duty to protect the American people within its borders."

"It is the equivalent of saying: 'If gun manufacturers products harm someone, the state will not seek redress in the name of the people,'" Vujin said. "Since only appellate cases are reported in legal documents, this seems to indicate that, at the very least, no one took an appeal on any decisions made under this section. In other words, it seems to have worked to prevent the people, themselves, from suing."

Vujin said that this is not ideal, though, as it puts an unnecessary obstacle in the path of people who are looking for justice from the court system, as it shifts the burden of "litigation on the prevailing party," which leads Vujin to question the constitutionality of the policy.

Vujin explained that in order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must prove numerous elements: that the defendants owed the decedent a reasonable duty of care, the defendant negligently violated the duty, that the violation of duty resulted in injury and that the damages were caused by the defendant's negligence.

"All of these are much easier to prove against Cruz, and for example, the school, or the police officer on duty," Vujin said. "The school had landlord liability, to wit, the duty to protect the children from harm while at school. The sheriff obviously was paid to protect the children ... but failed to do anything, so it should be fairly easy to attach liability to the aforementioned defendants."

Parents suing the gun manufacturer or sellers, however, may not have such an easy time, as the intended purpose of a gun is designed to harm.

"Please notice how the school and the deputy had a job to do (duty) but failed to do it? Same goes for car manufacturers, alcohol producers, they have a duty not to hurt other people with their products," Vujin said. "The situation is completely different with guns and other arms. They are designed to kill or maim, that is their purpose. Plaintiff will have to prove that an object that is designed to kill somehow failed because it killed people."

Vujin believes that this will be a massive undertaking for the families suing the gun manufacturer because it begins to enter into the discussion of Second Amendment rights, which is a cultural issue and one that parties on both side of the argument are passionate about.

Smith & Wesson did not return Florida Record's calls for comment on the lawsuit against them.

Following the shooting, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was formed to further investigate.

Bob Gualtieri, commented on the formation of the commission. 

"There are 20 members on the commission and the mandate is broad: to conduct an investigation into everything about Nikolas Cruz, from the time he was born to the incident on February 14, everything about law enforcement response," Gualtieri told Florida Record. "It's a massive undertaking because there is so much to cover, as well as voluminous evidence."

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