Jessica Hill / AP
After a years-long legal battle with the maker of the gun used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the families of the victims are deliberating on a $ 33 million settlement offer from Remington Arms.
The offer, presented by the now bankrupt gunmakers in court documents on Tuesday, comes just a day after a judge rejected the company’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the sum is well below what families have already said they expect.
In court documents earlier this year, they argued that wrongful death settlements could reach $ 225 million and that the total of expected punitive claims could exceed $ 1 billion.
But this week’s offer would only distribute about $ 3.7 million to each family.
An attorney for the families told the BBC they would “consider their next steps” regarding the proposed settlement.
Meanwhile, after two bankruptcy filings by Remington and years of legal wrangling that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, the case is expected to go to court soon. The selection of the jury is scheduled for September.
Surviving victims are motivated by the desire to effect societal change
Jonathan E. Lowy, chief counsel for the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence, has represented the families of victims and survivors of mass shootings for more than 20 years in so-called “impact litigation” cases.
These are prosecutions focused on the evolution of broader laws and policies, beyond the particular case at hand.
Lowy is not involved in the nine families who claim Remington was responsible for the deaths of six adults and 20 children as the manufacturer and distributor of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the 2012 massacre. he told NPR, “I have certainly been in this situation many times over the years and have had the experience of working through their decision making.”
He noted several similarities between the families in the Sandy Hook case and those he has worked with in the past.
“In my experience, victims and survivors, although they realize that no amount of money can compensate them for the harm they can cause them, they generally understand the importance of forcing them to irresponsible gun companies and their insurance companies. , to internalize the harm they cause. “
One of the most effective ways to do this is to make sure it is a powerful financial blow, he said.
“Without it,” he said, “everything is profitable for them and others die.”
How to overcome feelings of guilt
Lowy did not respond to questions about the $ 33 million offer on the table – whether it is too low given the death toll and the age of the victims. But, he said, he and lawyers in general have an obligation to discuss the range of options that may arise in a case. “And that’s going to include very negative options or very positive options.”
It is imperative that customers are fully aware of the risks, benefits and uncertainties of litigation, he added.
He also acknowledged that in the later stages of negotiating a settlement, some surviving victims who have tragically lost a loved one in an act of violence may feel guilty for having accepted a sum of money.
When such problems arise, Lowy said he urges them to seek help dealing with their grief. But he also reminds them “that they file a complaint to bring about a positive change … and money is an important element to force this change”.
“I think it decreases the guilt to some extent,” he said.