Lawyers’ move to hold gun-makers liable for Las Vegas mass shooting fails at Nevada Supreme Court
CARSON CITY, Nev. (Legal Newsline) – The Nevada Supreme Court has backed the firearms industry in wrongful death litigation – even when plaintiffs plausibly allege their products were illegal.
The court made its ruling Dec. 2 in the closely watched case of Carrie Parsons, one of the many victims of the 2017 mass shooting carried out by Stephen Paddock from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.
On Oct. 1, 2017, Paddock killed 60 people at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when he fired more than 1,000 shots into the crowd.
In federal court, Parsons’ family sought to break through immunity granted to gun makers by alleging the AR-15s used by Paddock violated state and federal machinegun prohibitions. The judge hearing the case found the Parsonses adequately made that allegation and asked the Nevada Supreme Court if that meant the gunmakers were no longer entitled to immunity.
A 20-page opinion written by Justice Kristina Pickering ruled the immunity is still intact.
“We in no way underestimate the profound public policy issues presented or the horrific tragedy the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass shooting inflicted,” she wrote. “But this is an area the Legislature has occupied extensively.
“If civil liability is to be imposed against firearm manufacturers and distributors in the position of the gun companies in this case, that decision is for the Legislature, not this court.
“We urge the Legislature to act if it did not mean to provide immunity in situations like this one. But as written, NRS 41.131 declares a legislative policy that the Parsonses cannot proceed with these claims under Nevada law.”
The Parsonses lawsuit is pursued by lawyers at Friedman Rubin of Washington, D.C. and Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder of Connecticut, as well as Matthew Sharp of Reno.
Among the defendants are Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Patriot Ordnance Factor, Noveske Rifleworks, Christensen Arms and Lewis Machine & Tool.
The case drew an amicus brief from the Nevada plaintiff lawyers group: the Nevada Justice Association. Victor Schwartz and Jennifer Hatcher of Shook, Hardy & Bacon authored the amicus brief of the National Shooting Sports Foundation that supported the defendants.
“Firearms have known, inherent risks and are lawfully owned by millions of Nevadans and other Americans for lawful uses, namely for sport, hunting and personal protection,” the brief says.
“Under traditional tort law, there is no liability for making a product, whether a gun, knife or other instrument, that could be improperly used or misused as a deadly weapon. The Legislature long ago clarified that the person who pulls the trigger, not the manufacturer or seller of the firearm, is to blame for a shooting, including a mass shooting of this proportion.”