When the acts of one person lead to deaths or injuries of others, questions of possible civil liability are a logical consequence. One of those questions addresses the extent of liability: that is, how people other than the person alleged to have proximately caused the harm may also be partly responsible for what happened. Events in the wake of the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, show how the question of secondary liability can extend to others who, at least ostensibly, had no part in causing the immediate suffering of the victims.
The perpetrator of the act that led to the deaths of 26 people at the school killed himself at the scene of the mass shooting. Relatives of the deceased have looked to extend the legal responsibility beyond the shooter himself. The latest lawsuits are based on a wrongful death theory and have been filed against the estate of the perpetrator’s mother, whom he killed with her own semi-automatic rifle before taking the same weapon to the school.
Other lawsuits filed in connection with the incident have included actions against the manufacturer of the rifle used in the killings as well as its organizational parent, along with a distributor and retailer involved in putting the weapon into commerce. With regard to the mother of the shooter, the lawsuits allege that she was negligent in keeping the weapon unsecured in her home, and that her negligence extended to letting her son have access to the rifle that he eventually used despite either knowing or being in position where she should have known that his mental and emotional state made him dangerous to others.
Wrongful death lawsuits are often filed against people who are still alive and who are allegedly directly responsible for the harm suffered. But as these new lawsuits demonstrate, it is not a prerequisite to have a living person available to initiate such an action. In this situation, the defendant estate is twice removed from the shootings and the shooter, yet a cause of action still exists against it.
Source: Fox59, “Sandy Hook families sue estate of shooter’s mother,” Kristina Sgueglia and Ray Sanchez, March 15, 2015