Law/Justice

The harsh reality of Colorado couple’s lawsuit woes

The harsh reality of Colorado couple's lawsuit woes
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File
Earlier this week, the Colorado Sun wrote a story about a couple who lost their daughter in the Aurora theater shooting. To be specific, the story was about an attempt to change the law that left them on the hook for a great deal of money.

The framing is easy to see. “This law is bad because they were trying to do God’s work, so it’s the law that’s wrong.”

However, there’s a lot more to the story.

Over at The Reload, Stephen Gutowski delves into that.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, who lost their daughter Jessica Ghawi in the horrible attack, said they were forced to file bankruptcy after being left on the hook for the legal fees associated with the case backed by Brady United Against Gun Violence. They claimed the group did not fully communicate the risk that they would be forced to pay for the defendants’ lawyers if they lost the longshot case. After the judge ruled against them, calling the case to hold ammo dealers liable for the shooting “meritless” at one point, the couple was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars from their own pocket.

“We lost three years of our life,” Lonnie Phillips told The Colorado Sun on Tuesday.

Mike Stankiewicz, a Brady spokesperson, disputed the Phillips claim.

“Brady always informs our clients of the financial risks involved in the cases they file, especially when filing in a state like Colorado that has a gun industry special protection law that requires victims who bring about these lawsuits to pay for attorney and other fees when unsuccessful,” Stankiewicz told The Reload. “That was done in this case and in every single other case Brady has litigated on behalf of gun violence victims.”

The accusation that Brady misled plaintiffs it recruited into a longshot case filed for mainly symbolic purposes may harm the group’s ability to file similar actions in the future. While there have been a few high-profile settlements, such as the one between Sandy Hook parents and insurers of the defunct Remington Arms Company, in cases seeking to hold gun companies liable for the criminal acts committed by third parties with their weapons, the vast majority of such suits are tossed early on in the process. Cases like the ones the Phillips lost rarely generate more than headlines and sometimes result in plaintiffs being forced to pay the companies they sued.

Federal District Judge Richard P. Matsch dismissed the Phillips case against the companies that sold guns and ammunition to the shooter, calling it an “all conceivable claims attack on these internet sellers, attempting to destroy their legitimate businesses and invalidate the federal and state statutes protecting them.”

He further accused Brady of seeking publicity with the suit rather than pursuing an actionable claim against the companies.

It’s not difficult to imagine why.

See, what appears to happen is that groups like Brady tend to swoop in and look for people whom they can get to file such lawsuits, lawsuits they know aren’t going to go anywhere. They find grieving families who are angry and distraught, then talk about justice and holding the gun industry accountable to people who are desperate to make someone pay for what happened.

While people like the Phillips are free to make their own decisions, gun control groups seem to take advantage of these people being at the lowest points in their lives.

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