When the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) was enacted in 2006 it provided protection to firearm manufactures from the majority of lawsuits being brought by victims of a shooting. Under the Act shooting victims were barred from suing firearm manufacturers in both federal and state courts under a wide range of circumstances.
However, the PLCAA does permit product liability lawsuits if the injury was caused by “a defect in design or manufacturer of the product.” The statute also goes on to state that if the circumstances involve “a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense, then such act shall be considered the sole proximate cause of any resulting death, personal injuries or property damage.”
An Illinois case asked the Illinois Supreme Court to clarify the circumstances under which PLCAA applies. The Illinois product liability lawsuit against Beretta USA Corp. involved a 13-year-old who had been adjudicated delinquent for accidentally killing his friend with a Beretta semiautomatic because he mistakenly believed that removing the clip of bullets completely unloaded the handgun.
Plaintiff argument for product manufacturing defects the handgun was unreasonably dangerous because removing the clip did not remove all of the bullets and that there was no warning indicating that one bullet was still in the chamber.
The manufacturer invoking PLCAA and moved for summary judgment. The motion was granted by the trial judge, but reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court.
According to the 1st District, that court raised questions of fact regarding whether (1) the shooter’s adjudication of delinquency was an equivalent to a criminal conviction, and (2) whether the shooter’s conduct was “a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense.”
The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the judgment in favor of Beretta. Based on the evidence, the Supreme Court concluded that “the discharge of the Beretta in this case was caused by a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense, which as the PLCAA provides that it was the sole proximate cause of the resulting death.” Adams v. Sheahan, 2009 WL 711297 (March 19, 2009).
The Illinois Supreme Court also ruled in this case that the Cook County Sheriff, whose gun it was that ultimately led to the 13 year-old’s death, would not make the Sheriff of Cook County automatically liable for the alleged negligence of the correctional officer who failed to properly secure his service weapon. The Beretta was found in an unlocked box.
Under the circumstances, the Illinois Supreme Court concluded that the Beretta owner’s conduct was not within the scope of his employment and thus could not hold the Sheriff of Cook County responsible.