Washington, D.C., October 2, 2020 – The estate of Sara J. Schmidt, 40, a mother of three from Harrison, Wisconsin, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against online gun sales site Armslist and co-founder Jonathan Gibbon. Schmidt died in a January 2018 shooting – a murder-suicide by her estranged husband. Brady, New York firm Blank Rome, and Milwaukee firm Cannon & Dunphy filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of Sarah’s father, who represents her estate.
The lawsuit alleges that reckless and unlawful business practices by Armslist allowed Sara’s killer – who was prohibited by law from possessing a gun because of his history of domestic violence against her, including rape – to obtain the handgun used to murder her and take his own life. The complaint alleges that Armslist knew it would be helping people prohibited by law from possessing guns to obtain them by skirting gun control laws.
Sarah’s murder occurred nearly five years after another abusive, estranged husband in Wisconsin illegally obtained a gun through Armslist, which he used in October 2012 to kill his wife, Yasmeen Daniel. He also killed two other women and injured four more people before fatally shooting himself in the Azana spa in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee. In the Daniel case, like the Schmidt case, a court order had prohibited the murderer from lawfully possessing a gun due to his history of domestic violence.
Brady and its local co-counsel had previously represented Yasmeen’s estate in a lawsuit filed against Armslist in 2015 arising from the Azana spa mass shooting. After a Milwaukee County Circuit Court dismissed that case in 2016, the state Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit in April 2018. In so doing, it became the first court in the nation to hold that a web-based gun marketplace might be held liable for negligence in facilitating an unlawful weapons sale. But the state Supreme Court reversed that ruling in April 2019, holding that the Communications Decency Act’s “Good Samaritan” provision immunizes Armslist from liability, even though the CDA’s language does not support shielding bad actors from liability for their own misconduct. Federal courts are not bound by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling, and many disagree with such a broad construction of the CDA.
Brady President Kris Brown stated:
“Victims of domestic violence should not have to live in fear that their abuser, their rapist, their stalker, can hop on the Internet from their phone, find a selection of firearms they can illegally buy without a Brady background check, and gun them down. We believe that companies should not enable people to skirt the law, and profit-making is not more important than public safety or the lives of four Wisconsin women. We remember their names: Sara Schmidt, Yasmeen Daniel, and Yasmeen’s two co-workers, Cary Robuck and Maelyn Lind, who were all murdered with guns sold to men barred from legally buying guns. No one should be above the law, and companies that put profits over people and endanger all of us by helping put guns in the hands of dangerous people should be held accountable for the foreseeable and deadly results.”
Among Wisconsin’s domestic violence homicides, guns are the most common means of murder, accounting for more than half of such deaths in 2016, according to a report by End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.
Co-counsel Jonathan Lowy of Brady stated:
“Victims of gun industry negligence should have the right to prove their case in court. We look forward to proving Sara’s case.”
About Brady Legal:
Brady has represented victims of gun industry negligence for over 30 years and has won more than $60 million in settlements and verdicts in cases brought by Brady on behalf of victims and survivors. Brady has also won landmark precedents holding that gun companies can be held legally responsible for the damage caused by their irresponsible business practices and has forced gun dealers and manufacturers to reform their practices to prevent sales of guns to dangerous people. Brady has litigated in over 40 states, and won victories in the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Alaska, and appellate and trial courts in California, Florida, Mississippi, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and other states.
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.