Washington, D.C., October 11, 2018 - In April 2013, Kirsten Englund was shot and killed by a man with a mental health problem whose mother had illegally purchased two guns on his behalf. Today, Kirsten’s family is announcing a landmark settlement in their lawsuit against J&G Sales, a national online gun dealer, and World Pawn Exchange, a firearms dealer in Oregon. Kirsten’s family had settled earlier with the mother of the shooter. As a result of the case, the first of its kind addressing the legal liability of federally licensed firearms dealers selling guns over the Internet, important legal precedent has now been established on gun dealer responsibility and a message has been sent to the gun industry about the care required to safely sell guns online.
The suit created new legal precedent that gun dealers can be held liable for the death of victims when they illegally sell guns over the Internet. It was also the first ruling to hold that both dealers involved in an online sale, the dealer who took the online order and the local dealer who completed the transfer, could be liable for a deadly shooting even if the gun they negligently sold was not fired, and if they negligently failed to report a suspicious gun sale to law enforcement. The litigation also was notable for permitting plaintiffs to pursue punitive damages against the gun sellers following an evidentiary hearing.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, and the D’Amore Law Group brought the lawsuit in 2016 and recently settled all claims on behalf of the Englund family. In addition to the significant business reforms being implemented as a result of the suit, the settlement also includes a substantial monetary settlement from all defendants in excess of $750,000.
Jonathan Lowy, Vice President of Litigation at the Brady Center and co-counsel for the estate of Kirsten Englund, stated, “If it were not so easy for a dangerously mentally troubled killer to obtain a gun on the Internet, Kirsten Englund would be alive today, with her two sons and loving family. As a result of this lawsuit, two gun dealers have agreed to significantly reform their business practices to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns, online or in a gun store. This settlement sends a resounding message to gun dealers across the country that there’s more they can and should do to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and if they act irresponsibly, they will be held accountable if innocent people are hurt or killed. This case is the latest in a string of impactful lawsuits by brave victims and survivors of gun violence who have channeled their grief into action, and forced gun sellers to be more careful to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
Julie Goldsmith Reiser, a partner at Cohen Milstein, added, “Cohen Milstein is proud of the results we have achieved for the Englund Family in this lawsuit. For over two and a half years, Cohen Milstein and the Brady Center litigated this case on a pro bono basis, and overcame a number of novel and challenging legal issues to provide a sense of justice to the Englund family and meaningful business reforms that will make tragedies like this one less likely in the future.”
Raymond M. Sarola, an associate at Cohen Milstein, further noted, “By bringing this lawsuit, the Englund Family has established – for the first time – that gun dealers who sell online must follow the same laws that apply to in-person gun sales. Two Oregon judges rejected the defendants’ efforts to have the case dismissed, holding that neither the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, nor any other law or legal principle insulates gun dealers from liability when they engage in straw sales. This sends a strong message to the gun industry that whether they sell guns in a store or over the Internet, if those sales do not comply with the law and someone is harmed as a result, the dealers will be held responsible in court.”
As part of the settlement, both gun dealers will implement important business reforms that will make it more difficult for dangerous people to get guns. J&G Sales, the online firearms dealer in Arizona that sold the gun that was transferred to World Pawn Exchange before being provided to Kirsten Englund’s murderer, has agreed to implement critical business reforms, including:
- Updating its employee manual to reflect new processes related to Internet sales to help employees identify and escalate suspicious purchasers/purchases;
- Updating its invoice system to provide clarification to the transferring gun dealer regarding the person the gun must be transferred to; and
- Updating its online ordering system to require buyers to confirm, under penalty of law, that they are purchasing the gun for themselves or as a gift for a spouse, child or grandchild.
World Pawn Exchange, the gun dealer in Oregon that transferred the gun used in the murder, has agreed to, among other reforms:
- No longer transfer firearms ordered from online sellers;
- Recognize that it has an important role in preventing dangerous people from obtaining firearms and keeping its community safe; and
- Publicly recommend that all gun dealers - including online sellers - go beyond the legal minimums to implement the safest business practices to prevent guns from being obtained by criminals, straw purchasers, and other persons who pose a danger to themselves or others.
During the course of the litigation, the Englund family won several important, precedent-setting victories in court. Those include:
- In June 2017, Multnomah County Judge Michael A. Greenlick denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss. In a first-of-its-kind ruling in Oregon, Judge Greenlick held that both gun dealers could be held liable for Kirsten’s death under general principles of negligence law. It was also a first-in-the-nation ruling that an online gun dealer could be liable for a shooting where it shipped a gun to another dealer, and it created precedent in holding that both dealers could be liable for the shooting even though the gun they negligently sold was not fired, since the gun they negligently sold could have emboldened the killer.
- In August 2018, Coos County Judge Martin Stone denied J&G’s motion for summary judgment. It was a first-in-the-nation ruling that a jury could hear claims against an online gun dealer who negligently sold guns that were supplied to the shooter. The ruling also created precedent in holding that the dealer could be liable for negligently selling a gun that was not fired, since a jury could find law enforcement could have seized the murder weapon if the dealer had notified law enforcement of a suspicious gun sale.
- In June 2018, Judge Stone granted the plaintiff’s motion to include punitive damages, meaning that the Court held that a jury could find that dealer defendants knew or should have known that a straw purchase was underway, calling several signs a “pretty clear red flag.”
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is dedicated to reducing gun injuries and deaths in America by stemming all of the causes of gun violence. Through its legal work, the Brady Center works in the courts to reform dangerous and reckless gun industry practices that give criminals and dangerous individuals access to guns. Brady’s legal team has won rulings in courts across the country holding that gun companies can be held accountable for shootings that result from their negligence, including in the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Indiana, and Alaska, and lower courts in New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, IL, New York, NY, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Philadelphia, PA, and Raleigh, NC.
Tom D’Amore, a leading plaintiffs’ trial attorney based in Portland, OR, is the founder of the D’Amore Law Group.
Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.