Nevada Supreme Court rules state law grants companies immunity from wrongful death and negligence claims
By Jennifer Calfas, Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2021
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled gun manufacturers and distributors couldn’t be held responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history because of existing state law.
In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Nevada Supreme Court said state law grants gun manufacturers and distributors immunity from “wrongful death and negligence per se claims,” meaning they couldn’t be held liable for the actions of the gunman who opened fire in October 2017 on the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas.
The family of Carrie Parsons, one of the more than 50 people killed and hundreds injured in the shooting, had filed a lawsuit against various gun manufacturers and distributors in 2019. The family claimed the makers of the 12 different AR-15 semiautomatic rifles used in the shooting knew the weapons could be easily modified to fire like fully automatic machine guns. The manufacturing and sale of new fully automatic weapons is prohibited under federal law.
“If civil liability is to be imposed against firearm manufacturers and distributors in the position of the gun companies in this case, that decision is for the Legislature, not this court,” wrote Judge Kristina Pickering in the court’s unanimous opinion Thursday. “We urge the Legislature to act if it did not mean to provide immunity in situations like this one.”
Attorneys representing the Parsons family didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday. Attorneys for the various gun manufacturers and distributors named in the lawsuit, including Colt’s Manufacturing LLC and FN America LLC, also didn’t respond to requests.
The Route 91 Harvest festival shooting was the deadliest in modern U.S. history, as a lone gunman opened fire on a large crowd from more than 30 floors up in a Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino room before he killed himself.
The shooter, Stephen Paddock, equipped semiautomatic guns with rapid-fire devices called bump stocks. The modification allows semiautomatic rifles to mimic a fully automatic weapon, which can fire bullets continuously with one pull of the trigger.
After the shooting, the Trump administration moved to ban rapid-fire bump stock devices.
Attorneys representing the Parsons family had argued the gun manufacturers and distributors violated federal law by selling illegal machine guns, according to court documents. The defendants said the weapons were semiautomatic rifles and protected under state law.
Nevada law states a person can’t take action against manufacturers or distributors of guns “merely because the firearm or ammunition was capable of causing serious injury, damage or death, was discharged and proximately caused serious injury, damage or death.”
In October 2019, MGM Resorts International Inc. , owner of the Mandalay Bay and the concert venue, agreed to pay up to $800 million to victims of the shooting, which included more than 4,000 survivors and relatives of those killed. MGM Resorts acknowledged no liability.
Corrections & Amplifications
The gunman in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting opened fire from his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. An earlier version of this article incorrectly called it the Mandalay Bay Casino & Resort. (Corrected on Dec. 3)
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Appeared in the December 4, 2021, print edition as ‘Gun Manufacturers Aren’t Liable In Las Vegas Massacre, Court Rules.’