Legal Roundup: Sandy Hook Survivors Seek Justice, T-Shirt Cannon Injury Seeks Liability and More

A look at recent court decisions and how their rulings have an impact on risk management and the insurance industry.
By: | April 14, 2019

Remington Appealing Sandy Hook Ruling to Supreme Court

The Case: Remington, maker of the AR-15 style rifle used to kill 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is appealing a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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The Connecticut ruling states that Remington can be sued under state law for how it marketed the weapon. An attorney representing a survivor and nine relatives of the Sandy Hook victims “has accused the company of targeting younger, at-risk males through ‘militaristic marketing and astute product placement in violent first-person shooter games,’ ” according to ABC News.

There’s little doubt that this case will garner lots of attention if accepted for review by the Supreme Court.

ABC News explains: “The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue firearm makers. The federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun-makers since it took effect in 2005, and it has been used to bar lawsuits over other mass killings.”

Scorecard: For now, Remington can be sued for its poor marketing of the AR-15 rifle. 

TakeawayThis case not only has implications for the Sandy Hook victims and Remington, but could also define the fallout of future of mass shootings.

Houston Astros Sued for T-Shirt Cannon Finger-Breaking Incident

The Case: The Houston Astros have been sued for $1 million by a woman claiming that the T-shirt cannon operated by mascot Orbit severely broke her left index finger.

The Houston Chronicle reports: “Jennifer Harughty alleges the Astros mascot Orbit ‘shattered’ her finger during a July 2018 game after firing a T-shirt from a ‘bazooka style’ cannon into the stands that ‘struck Harughty at close distance,’ according to court records.”

Harughty needed two surgeries and two screws in her finger.

Despite physical therapy two days per week, “Harughty’s finger is still damaged and ‘remains locked in an extended position with little to no range of motion,’ court records show,” according to the Chronicle.

Scorecard: The lawsuit claims the Astros did not use reasonable care with its T-shirt cannon and put fans like Harughty at risk. The Astros released a statement saying they “do not agree with the allegations” and will continue using the cannon at games.

Takeaway: Many clubs have increased the amount of netting around the lower portion of the ballparks to guard against sharply hit foul balls that can injure fans. At every ballpark, there are signs telling fans to be aware of foreign objects (mostly baseballs but sometimes bats). Was there proper warning about flying T-shirts? It remains to be seen. But, regardless, liability for injuries within a park tend to fall back on the owners.

Patagonia Sues Anheuser-Busch Over “Patagonia” Beer

The Case: Patagonia is suing Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) for marketing a beer that not only bears the Patagonia name but has an eerily similar logo and branding.

CNN explains: “Patagonia, the clothing company, accuses AB InBev (BUD) of trademark infringement for copying the brand’s name and aesthetic on its beer. AB’s Patagonia beer packaging includes a silhouette of a mountain and the word Patagonia in bold lettering. What’s worse, the clothing company said, is AB InBev has been selling the brew and its own Patagonia-branded apparel at pop-up stores at ski resorts, which is Patagonia clothing territory, the company said in the suit.”

Patagonia, the beer, even promises to plant a tree for each case of beer sold — an initiative that harkens back to the clothing company’s environmental efforts.

Scorecard: While Patagonia says AB InBev is doing everything it is power to convince people that the clothing company is involved in the beer, AB InBev told CNN that it will vigorously defend its trademark rights.

Takeaway: Brand identification is invaluable.

Fiat Chrysler Agrees to Pay $110M in Diesel Emissions Case

The Case: Fiat Chrysler has agreed to pay $110 million to settle claims that it misled investors and failed to comply with U.S. regulations regarding diesel emissions.

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Bloomberg explains: “A group of investors accused Fiat Chrysler of falsely claiming that it was complying with safety regulations and said they lost money when shares lost value after the company disclosed that it failed to properly carry out vehicle recalls.”

The company is under fire for other incidents as well: “Less than a week ago Fiat Chrysler agreed to settle a separate antitrust lawsuit claiming the company pushed auto dealers to submit fraudulent sales numbers,” said Bloomberg.

“In January, the company agreed to pay about $800 million in fines and costs to settle lawsuits brought by states, car owners and the U.S. Justice Department, which said its diesel-powered pickups and SUVs violated clean-air rules.”

This latest settlement isn’t likely to help the company’s reputation.

Scorecard: Fiat Chrysler denies any wrongdoing in the case and told Bloomberg that their insurance company will be picking up the tab.

Takeaway: Yet, Fiat Chrysler is still on the line for $110M. Policyholders should review their activities/practices that could potentially become a bigger legal issue before it can get to that point. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]