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Suit Highlights Need To Enact Reckless Lawsuit Preemption Legislation

Sunday, March 20, 2005

As we`ve lately reported in the Grassroots Alert, "The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" was recently introduced in Congress as S. 397 in the U.S. Senate, and H.R. 800 in the U.S. House. This NRA-backed lawsuit preemption legislation protects law-abiding firearm manufacturers from reckless, predatory lawsuits.

Another example of the need for such legislation surfaced recently as a negligence and negligent entrustment suit was brought against retail giant Wal-Mart by one of its employees.

Marsha Midgette, an employee of Wal-Mart, was tragically injured when her husband shot her in the head during an altercation inside a Wal-Mart store, then turned the gun on himself. Earlier that evening, Mr. Midgette had purchased ammunition from the same Wal-Mart store. Marsha Midgette sued her employer, Wal-Mart, for negligence in failing to protect her from her husband, and for negligent entrustment for selling ammunition to him. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that they owed no duty to protect Marsha Midgette from her husband`s criminal acts.

On March 3, in a non-published opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the decision of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granting summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., in the action.

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Wal-Mart`s motion for summary judgment, holding that, "As a general rule under Pennsylvania law, absent a pre-existing duty, a party cannot be held liable for the criminal actions of a third party unless that party assumed a duty, through some act of its own."

The Court held that Wal-Mart had found no duty owed to Marsha Midgette, and that even if there was a duty owed, it was not breached. The Court further held that Wal-Mart could not be found to be the legal or proximate cause of Mrs. Midgette`s injuries. "If the people closest to the situation could not have anticipated it, we cannot expect that Wal-Mart could foresee [Mr. Midgette`s] actions....Certainly, no reasonable jury could find that the shooting would have been foreseen by an ordinary person as the natural and probable outcome of Defendant`s legal sale of ammunition."

Regarding the sale of ammunition to Mr. Midgette, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also granted Wal-Mart`s motion for summary judgment on the grounds of negligent entrustment. The Court found that, "Based on the record before us, we find that no reasonable jury could conclude that Wal-Mart knew, or should have known, that [Mr. Midgette] either intended or was likely to use the ammunition Wal-Mart sold to him to risk harm to anyone."

In conclusion, the Court held that, "…Wal-Mart did not breach any duty that it may have owed to Plaintiff, and that any breach of duty perceived by Plaintiff could not constitute the legal cause of Plaintiff`s unfortunate injuries…Thus, there are no issues of material fact for a jury to address."

Though this common sense decision bolsters NRA`s contention that these suits are without merit, the daunting cost to lawful manufacturers and sellers of firearms (currently estimated at well over $200 million) to defend themselves against this litigation seriously threatens the future of lawful firearm commerce in America. Of course, the anti-gun litigation strategy isn`t necessarily to win any of these suits (as they have failed to do thus far), but rather to bankrupt the industry through overwhelming litigation costs. Despite yet another court victory for the lawful gun industry, the continuance of these suits being filed demonstrates the pressing need to pass federal legislation to end them once and for all.

Please continue to contact your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and ask them to cosponsor and support S.397 and H.R. 800. And please let them know, in no uncertain terms, that you consider any votes in support of anti-gun amendments to this legislation as a vote against the underlying bill itself!

To access the most up-to-date information on this issue, please go to the "Stop Reckless Lawsuits Against the Firearm Industry" heading at, www.NRAILA.org, and click the "Take Action" button. This function will allow you to easily send an e-mail or letter to your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators. Please forward this link to your family, friends, and fellow firearm owners.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.