On Monday, a Wisconsin jury verdict found Badger Guns liable for selling a weapon, which was later used in a police shooting, in an illegal straw purchase. To read more about the background of the case and a discussion of the verdict, visit our earlier Center for Law, Health & Society blog posts.
Professor Timothy Lytton talked about the implications of this case in a Washington Post article, “The multi-million dollar Wisconsin gun store verdict that could reverberate in the gun debate.” Even in the wake of recent tragedies such as the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, it is unlikely that new gun control legislation will move forward. Civil liability offers an alternative. Verdicts in favor of plaintiffs provide “incentive to gun stores to follow these sorts of guidelines and for the industry to try and police them,” said Lytton in the Washington Post article. “Exposure to liability provides a strong incentive for gun stores to live up to their own industry standards,” he said in another article, “Despite verdict, Badger Gun lawsuit still faces long road,” in the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel.
Although the injured police officers were awarded nearly $6 million for medical needs, pain and suffering, and punitive damages, it may be a long time before they see any of this money as Badger Guns’ attorneys have stated that they will file for appeal. They argue that Wisconsin civil law requires that the judge should have used the higher evidentiary standard of “clear and convincing.” The Milwaukee Circuit Court judge, however, relied on the lower federal standard in this case.
Lytton explained that the opinion in this case is not binding precedent on other states but that other states may look at this case to see how it was handled. “Since there was a full trial with a lot of coverage, this may be a place for other courts to figure out how to manage this kind of case,” Lytton said.
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law with expertise in the public policy implications of tort litigation. He is the editor of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts (2005).