Gun makers lose landmark damages case

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The Independent Online
THE GUN industry was hunkering down yesterday after a federal jury in Brooklyn awarded damages of $4m (pounds 2.5m) in a lawsuit against manufacturers by families of six murder victims in New York as well as a 19-year-old man who survived being shot in the head.

The verdict, which none the less exonerated 10 of the 25 gun makers cited in the suit, may be a turning point in the effort by anti-gun activists to challenge the industry. It echoes the campaign by the anti-tobacco movement against the cigarette industry in the United States.

At the heart of the Brooklyn case was the plaintiffs' contention that the gun makers were negligent in overseeing the distribution of guns in the US market. They accused the companies of flooding those states in the US, particularly in the Deep South, with their products in the knowledge that they would then seep into states with tough gun-sale restrictions, such as New York.

"The huge pool of handguns is like toxic waste," a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the jury. "It's been sent down the river by different companies."

In recent months, several US cities, including Chicago, New Orleans, Bridgeport, Connecticut, as well as Dade County in Florida, have launched lawsuits against the gun industry. The suits are modelled on those filed by a multitude of US states against the tobacco industry. The cities want the gun industry to pay for the cost of combating crime involving guns.

The Brooklyn jury concluded that 15 manufacturers distributed their products negligently and that the negligence of nine of them was a "proximate cause" of the shootings.

The only monetary award was tied to the shooting of the surviving man. Steven Fox was accidentally shot by a friend in 1995 and still has a bullet lodged in his head. Although the jury said he and his family suffered $4m in harm, it awarded him only about $500,000 (pounds 310,000), based on the market share of the three companies linked to that shooting. They were American Arms Inc, the Beretta USA Corp and Taurus International.

"I thank God we absolutely won," declared Freddie Hamilton, whose son, Njuzi, was felled by a bullet in 1993. She predicted that the verdict would herald a "whole new phase" of litigation against the gun industry.