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Assault pistol maker to face liability in law office shooting.

A California judge has ruled that assault weapon manufacturers may be held liable for the deaths of people killed by their products.

The April 10 decision specifically clears the way for families of victims in the 1993 Pettit & Martin law office slaughter to sue a gun maker--not on a product defect theory but on grounds that the manufacturer's assault weapons are designed only for mass killing and, therefore, are inherently "ultrahazardous." (In re 101 California Street, Master File No. 959316 (Cal., San Francisco County Super. Ct. Apr. 10, 1995).)

In May 1994, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington, D.C., filed suit on behalf of the families of seven people killed and six wounded in the shooting spree. Assailant Gian Luigi Ferri, who reportedly held a grudge against lawyers, killed himself after spraying sections of the San Francisco firm with ammunition from two TEC-DC9 semiautomatic pistols. A January 1996 trial date has been set to decide the liability question, according to Dennis Henigan, who is the director of the center's Legal Action Project.

"It's an extremely significant decision," Henigan said of the ruling by San Francisco County Superior Court Judge James Warren. "This particular gun had no business being sold to the public in the first place because it's essentially a military-style weapon designed only for mass killing."

The primary defendant in the suit is Navegar Inc. of Miami, maker of the TEC-DC9. Navegar contends it cannot be held liable for what buyers do with the guns it makes.

"This ruling is really good news for those who have been victims of assault weapons and intentional shootings," said Richard Miller, a plaintiffs' attorney who practices in Springfield, Missouri. "It's especially timely because 1993 was the first time ever that deaths from firearms have exceeded deaths from automobile accidents."

Miller said the public generally will benefit from this decision because state legislatures, so far, have been unwilling to pass laws that hold gun makers liable for criminal use of their products.

"The court is recognizing that the tide of public sentiment is demanding some solution to this [liability] problem," he said. "I think other judges might want to take a look at this ruling. If this issue is going to be resolved, it's going to be resolved by the courts."
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Association for Justice
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:California
Author:Brienza, Julie
Publication:Trial
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 1, 1995
Words:381
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