Parkland school shooting victim’s parents pursue lawsuit against gunmaker.
A panel from the 4th District Court of Appeals in Florida could decide whether a former Parkland student’s family members are able to pursue a case against the firearm company Smith & Wesson (S&W). Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg have filed a lawsuit against S&W and the store that sold the shooter a semi-automatic rifle, Sunrise Tactical Supply. On July 12, the appeals court will hear arguments in the case
On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, taking the lives of 17 people and injuring 17 others. Court records show he entered Building 12, a three-story structure housing 30 classrooms that can hold approximately 900 students and 30 teachers. He entered a hallway and began to open fire at anyone passing by. A fire alarm subsequently went off, which investigators believe may have been a diversion mechanism used by Cruz so he could escape the scene.
Cruz was a former student at the school and was ultimately arrested an hour later in nearby Coral Springs. The incident is considered to be the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, surpassing the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy that claimed the lives of 15 (including the suspects). The suspect is still awaiting sentencing.
Following the attack, surviving students provided funds to Never Again MSD, an advocacy group that lobbies for gun control. And, on March 9, 2022, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill tightening restrictions on the state’s gun laws, allowed for teachers and school resource officers to carry weapons.
The student’s parents originally went to state court to attempt to get a ruling about whether a Florida law shields gunmakers and sellers from lawsuits. A circuit judge dismissed their request for a declaratory judgment. Yet, undeterred, the student’s family then went to the appeals court.
“The Guttenbergs have sufficiently alleged bona fide doubts in the face of a confusingly written firearms immunity statute regarding their right to sue the appellees (the businesses) for the wrongful death of their daughter without being threatened with mandatory and expansive financial penalties for merely walking through the courthouse door,” read a brief filed by the family’s attorney Stephen Rosenthal in November 2021. It also stated that the victim’s parents should be able to pursue allegations against weapons makers and dealer of “negligently marketing military-style rifles to children and young adults in a manner that foreseeably led to the acquisition and misuse of such firearms by adolescents, including Nikolas Cruz, who are more likely to engage in risky and impulsive behavior.”
S&W’s attorneys argued that “immunity-related issues would need to be resolved in a full lawsuit that includes the Guttenbergs’ underlying allegations against the businesses.” In a March 2022 brief, the company responded, “Plaintiffs’ declaratory-judgment action is a textbook request for an improper advisory opinion. The claims seek answers to hypothetical questions that may possibly arise only in the future. The trial court correctly recognized that plaintiffs are not entitled to a legal opinion preemptively depriving defendants of a potential affirmative defense before plaintiffs even file the claims to which the defense may or may not apply.”