PRODUCTS LIABILITY-GUN MANUFACTURERS

August 22nd, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Products Liability

Gustafson v. Springfield, Inc., 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 356 (August 12, 2022).  This federal law prevents any civil action or administrative proceeding against a manufacturer or seller of firearms moving through interstate commerce for damages, fines, etc. resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of that firearm by a third party.  This case involves criminal or unlawful misuse of a gun.  Trial court had granted preliminary objections and dismissed the case.  The plaintiff claims the matter falls within one of the PLCAA’s six exceptions to the definition.  One of the exceptions is an action brought against the seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se.  Also, where there is a breach of contract or warranty.  Also an action for death, physical injury or damages resulting from a defect in design or manufacture when the gun is used in the foreseeable way. The Gustafsons filed a product liability lawsuit under Pennsylvania common law.  But for federal statute, this would have proceeded through the state courts like every other civil action.  Apparently, there was a claim here that the gun was defective.  A per curiam order was filed August 12, 2022.  The order of the trial court sustaining preliminary objections was reversed.  Kunselman filed an opinion in support of the per curiam order to reverse in which Panella and Lazarus joined.  Bender, President Judge, filed an opinion in support of the per curiam order to reverse.  Dubow filed an opinion in support of the per curiam order to reverse.  Olson filed a dissenting opinion in which Bowes and McCaffery joined and Murray concurred in the result.  Murray filed a dissenting opinion in which Olson and McCaffery concurred in the result.  A 13-year-old was killed and a products liability claim followed.  Gustafson and his 14-year-old friend visited the home of a friend and obtained a semi-automatic handgun there.  The friend removed the handgun’s magazine and believed it was unloaded because there were not adequate warnings or indicators to inform that a live round remained in the chamber.  Thinking the gun was unloaded, the boy pulled the trigger.  Chamber bullet fired and killed Gustafson.  District Attorney charged the friend with general homicide, and the friend eventually pleaded delinquent to involuntary manslaughter in juvenile court.  Gustafson, as administrator of his son’s estate, sued the manufacturer and seller of the handgun.  They claimed strict liability.  The Gustafsons said the PLCAA did not apply to their lawsuit.  It certainly seems that it fit one of the exceptions, that being of a defective product.  That is one of the exceptions under the Act.  It is exception (v), products liability suit.  Some of the judges believe that the law is unconstitutional, but the more narrow ground that an exception was met seems to have been prevailed.  At issue also was the commerce clause which was raised and discussed extensively in the decision.  After examining the cases, some of the judges believe that the commerce clause did not permit this Act to be passed.  The Act immunizes the gun industry from any common law liability that arises any time after the firearm or ammunition has moved through and exited interstate commerce.  Neither Congress nor the federal government provided any explanation for how state civil lawsuits and local torts involving those products burden or obstruct the free flow of interstate commerce.  Our juris prudence has never recognized that litigation costs justify an assertion of commerce clause authority.  In other words, some of the judges believe that the commerce clause could not be interpreted so broadly as to permit the statute.  There also is a claim under the Tenth Amendment that the PLCAA invades the province of state sovereignty reserved by the Tenth Amendment.  This is an interesting claim for which there is unfortunately little support.  In reviewing the Tenth Amendment, at least some of the judges would hold that Section 7902(b) of the PLCAA is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States presumably under the Tenth Amendment, which reserves rights dealing with claims against firearm manufacturers as a state matter.  This judge concluded that Section 7902(b) of PLCAA which directs courts to dismiss common-law claims that fall within the definition of “qualified-civil-liability action” violative of the Tenth Amendment.  In terms of severability, some judges would not find that to be appropriate either.  The constitutional safeguards that override the PLCAA are the structural pillars of American government, wrote the one judge in support of the per curiam reversal.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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