CALIF. Supreme Court ruling that victims can't sue manufacturers a victory for gun makers

Tuesday, August 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ In 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri entered a San Francisco skyscraper and opened fire in a law office with two TEC-DC9s and a revolver, killing eight people and wounding six before killing himself.

Survivors claimed Navegar Inc., the maker of the gun used in the shooting, was liable for damages because it marketed the TEC-DC9 to appeal to criminals, and that Navegar should have foreseen it would be used in a massacre.

Their case was originally thrown out by a judge. But two years ago, California's 1st District Court of Appeal ruled the survivors were entitled to a trial on their claims.

But on Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that victims and families cannot sue gun manufacturers when the products are used illegally.

The court's 5-1 decision was an important victory for Navegar, as well as other weapons manufacturers.

``This decision adds to the body of law that has been growing on this topic,'' said Ernest Getto, a lawyer for Navegar.

Every state high court and federal appellate court to consider such lawsuits has ruled that makers of legal, non-defective guns cannot be sued for their criminal misuse.

Getto had argued there was no evidence of any connection between the manufacturer's legal activities and the criminal conduct of the suicidal gunman.

``In reaching this conclusion, we are not insensitive to the terrible tragedy that occurred on July 1, 1993,'' Justice Ming Chin wrote for the California Supreme Court.

However, state lawmakers have ``set California's public policy regarding gun manufacturers liability under these circumstances. Given that public policy, plaintiffs may not proceed with their negligence claim.''

The ruling could insulate gun makers in a lawsuit by Los Angeles, San Francisco and 10 other California cities and counties, claiming faulty design, manufacture and distribution of firearms. At least 16 similar lawsuits have been filed by local governments elsewhere.

Stephen Sposato, whose wife was killed while giving a deposition at the law firm, was outraged by Monday's decision.

``There is no upside for society with a product like that,'' Sposato said. ``I'm a gun owner and a lifelong Republican. But this has got nothing to do with that.''

Carol Kingsley, whose husband was killed when a hail of bullets punctured his closed office door, said the guns ``were designed for mass killing and they were marketing, targeting these types of folks like Ferri.''

In the lone dissent, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said the victims' case should proceed to trial on grounds that Navegar was negligent in marketing the fast-firing weapon to the general public. She said Navegar should have restricted its sale to firing ranges, police and military users.