Wisconsin Jury Finds in Favor of Police Officers in Negligence Suit Against Gun Shop, Spurring Discussion in Massachusetts and Across the Nation

On the surface, it may have seemed like a case about the Second Amendment. After all, stories of disputes between police and the criminally accused are common these days, and with each shooting comes national discussion about the right to keep and bear arms.

Certainly, the lawsuit brought by two police officers against a Wisconsin gun shop will spur a debate about gun ownership, but that was not what the case was really about. Take away the fact that the plaintiffs were police officers, and what you have is basically a negligence lawsuit against a store who allegedly breached the duty of care owed to the public with regard to the sale of a potentially dangerous product.

Facts of the Case

According to the allegations in the plaintiffs’ complaint, a 21-year-old man purchased a semiautomatic pistol from the defendant store back in 2009. The purchase, on its face, was legal. The problem was that the “buyer” wasn’t really the person who wanted the gun. The real buyer was underage and could not buy the weapon on his own. Both men went into the store to pick out the particular pistol that was bought, and, presumably, the “buyer” handed the gun over to the younger man after making the straw purchase and leaving the store.

Some time later, the gun owner shot the plaintiffs with the pistol during an altercation. The plaintiffs sued the gun shop, claiming that it had been negligent in allowing the “buyer” to purchase the gun when there were so many red flags and inconsistencies in the men’s behavior during the transaction.

The Jury’s Verdict

After hearing the evidence of both sides and the arguments of their attorneys, the jury returned a verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor, finding that the store had breached its duty in the sale of the gun that injured the plaintiffs. The jury’s verdict included $3.2 million to one plaintiff (who lost an eye and suffered brain damage in the shooting), $1.2 million to the other plaintiff, and $730,000 in punitive damages.

What Happens Next

It is likely that the gun shop will appeal the verdict, and a final decision from the higher courts will take months or possibly years, depending upon how far the case goes up the appellate ladder. Although the case has no direct impact in Massachusetts at the time, it certainly speaks to the possibility of further litigation against gun shops across the country that negligently allow straw purchases or engage in other questionable selling practices. Although federal law prohibits civil lawsuits against gun makers and sellers based solely on the alleged misuse of firearm products, the law does not protect them from suits alleging negligence, such as was alleged in the Wisconsin suit.

To Talk to a Lawyer About Your Injury or Loved One’s Death

When a person is hurt by the careless conduct of an individual, business, or governmental entity, there is always the possibility of pursing monetary compensation for damages via a negligence lawsuit. If you or a loved one has been hurt because of another person’s negligence, and you need legal advice about whether you have a case, call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664. Our products liability attorneys represent clients throughout the Cape Cod area and will be pleased to serve you at either our Hyannis or Plymouth office.

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