Courts Blame Gun Makers
'Courts Unload On Gun makers In Landmark Case' The Courier-Mail, 13/2/99 ( See also Colt retires)

IN a landmark verdict, a Brooklyn jury has found 15 gun makers negligent in the marketing and distribution of hand-guns.

The jury stopped short of awarding the tens of millions of dollars the suit sought.

"We won, and this starts a whole new phase," said lead plaintiff Freddie Hamilton, whose son Njuzi Ray, 17, was gunned down on a Brooklyn street in 1993.

"It was never about money. It was about shared responsibility," added Diane Zaretsky, whose husband, Marvin, was shot to death in Queens in 1994.

Hamilton, Zaretsky and five others sued the gun manufacturers for negligence, contending the industry oversupplies weapons to states with weak gun laws, enabling guns to flow illegally to areas like New York that have greater controls.

In a compromise verdict, the panel found the gun makers negligent in all seven shootings — but decided that their negligence contributed to just two of the six deaths and to the injury of a Queens man who survived with a bullet in the brain.

Of those three shootings, the panel awarded damages in just one case- giving the survivor, Steven Fox, 19, of Queens, $4.95 million and his mother, Gail Fox, $50,000.

Yet the Foxes can actually collect just $500,000 and $7500, respectively, because the jury assigned just 13% of the damages to the defendants.

"It was an incredible victory," said plaintiffs lawyer Elisa Barnes. "We held 15 of the 25 liable for negligence."

But defence lawyers also claimed victory. There's definitely no rhyme or reason to this jury's verdict," said attorney John Renzulli, who represented Glock and 13 other gun makers.

Defence lawyers said they would file motions to have the verdict thrown out.

"It's a classic split-the-baby verdict," said Brooklyn Law School Professor David Yassky. "The negligence (finding) is clearly bad for the gun companies."

The Brooklyn case was the first of its kind ever to go to trial and was viewed as a test for similar suits recently filed across the nation.

The jury of nine women and two men wrangled for five days sending out notes indicating it was deadlocked.

One startling note said 10 jurors were working together, but that one juror refused because he or she believed the verdict "will open the floodgate lawsuits across the country."

"Some didn't like guns and some did. That's why it took so long," said an unidentified male juror.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein told the jurors to decide the case based on the evidence and not to consider outside implications.

Among the 10 companies not found negligent were industry giants Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger

Knight-Ridder/Tribune

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