Saturday, August 12, 2000

City gun suit shot down on appeal


Judges say product dangers 'obvious'

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The city of Cincinnati lost again Friday in its legal battle to hold gun makers responsible for gun violence.

        An appeals court ruled the city would “open a Pandora's box” if a lawsuit it filed last year forced gun manufacturers to pay for damages caused by guns.

        The court concluded that suing the manufacturers because of gun violence makes about as much sense as suing match companies because of arson.

        “Guns are dangerous,” Judge Ralph Winkler wrote in his majority opinion. “The risks of guns are open and obvious.”

        The unanimous decision by the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals means city officials now must appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court if they want to keep their law suit alive.

        The decision also could be a blow to similar lawsuits that have been filed against gun makers in nearly 30 cities nationwide.

        “The legal opinions applied in this case should apply to other jurisdictions,” said James Dorr, an attorney for the Connecticut-based Sturm & Ruger gun company.

        “These cases never had any legal basis.”

        Cincinnati's lawsuit contends gun manufacturers owe the city millions of dollars in expenses and damages.

        The city claims gun makers are responsible for the misuse of firearms and are negligent because they failed to design weapons with adequate safety devices.

        Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman rejected those arguments last year when he threw out the city's lawsuit. In its 3-0 vote Friday, the appeals court upheld Judge Ruehlman's decision.

        Cincinnati attorney Stanley Chesley, who represents the city, said he will ask City Council to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.

        He said two of the three appeals court judges, Lee Hildebrandt and Mark Painter, disagreed with some aspects of Judge Winkler's majority opinion.

        Although both judges voted with the majority, Mr. Chesley said their concerns give him hope that another appeal might succeed.

        “I'm disappointed, but I'm encouraged as well,” Mr. Chesley said. “We need to address this with the Supreme Court.”

        Judge Winkler, however, left no doubt about his opposition to the city's lawsuit. He accused the city of using a “shotgun approach” that makes broad allegations unsupported by the evidence.

        The judge said the city's suit is fatally flawed because it does not cite any direct injuries caused by a specific gun model or manufacturer.

        He said the city also failed to show how it directly suffered any physical damage as a result of gun violence.

        “The city ... can prove no harm to itself in the form of death, physical injury or emotional distress,” Judge Winkler wrote. “The city makes generic claims against all the manufacturers in an effort to gloss over the fatal omissions in its complaint.”

        The judge went on to say that gun makers cannot be blamed if criminals or ordinary citizens misuse lethal weapons.

        “Manufacturers have no duty to give warnings about the obvious dangers of handguns,” Judge Winkler wrote.

        “Were we to decide otherwise, we would open a Pandora's box. The city could sue the manufacturers of matches for arson, or automobile manufacturers for traffic accidents, or breweries for drunken driving.”

       



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