Shouldn’t Smith & Wesson and the maker of Ambien be legally liable for the recent Fort Hood massacre?

Many reports indicate that the gunman, Ivan Lopez, had been prescribed the drug Ambien when he killed four men (including himself) and injured 16 others on 3 April 2014 with his .45-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol. This senseless massacre of innocent people raises an important legal question. Why can’t the victims and their families sue Smith & Wesson as well as the manufacturer of the drug for their losses? If you think it’s unfair to extend liability so far, isn’t it more unfair to let the loss lie where it falls, to borrow Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous phrase?

So, sue us!

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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3 Responses to Shouldn’t Smith & Wesson and the maker of Ambien be legally liable for the recent Fort Hood massacre?

  1. Bobby says:

    While, I’m ignorant of the warning labels on the Ambien (aside from the commercial on t.v. every 2-3 min) I’m sure there were some warnings on the medication involving operation of certain types of objects. I doubt that guns are expressed one can assume that a reasonable person (while not on Ambien) know that you shouldn’t use weapons in an unsafe manner. The issue should revolve more around who prescribed the Ambien (if it is OTC then perhaps that should be the legal argument that it should be). However, to say that Smith and Wesson is responsible is to say that the spoon made me fat because I eat more food with a spoon at one time than with a fork. Killing, (and irrational behavior) is just that. Trying to hold the medium used in said action is unreasonable and not in the interest of justice as it would flood the court system and nothing good would come of it, as the likely outcome would be the revocations of rights and liberties given to our society by living in the United States of America.

  2. enrique says:

    Your points are well-taken and the spoon analogy is a good one, but here is how I would try to distinguish it from the Ft Hood case. When A uses his spoon to over-eat, he is only harming himself; by contrast, when he aims his firearm against innocent people (and pulls the trigger) he is harming third parties. But my larger point is this: manufacturers of firearms are profit-maximizing firms and they know ex ante that some fraction of their products will kill and injure people. As such, I personally have no problem with imposing a form of ABSOLUTE LIABILITY on such firms. Furthermore, notice that my personal preference for Absolute Liability in no way limits your constitutional right to manufacturer or own a firearm. I’m just saying that if you want to profit from this activity, you need to pay the full social costs created by the product. What’s wrong with my argument?

  3. Bobby says:

    Fair enough, however, to counter your counter argument (almost makes me sound like I’m playing Chess, Knight to E7), much like the spoon affects no one while waiting in the drawer to be used in someone’s plot to take control of the cereal bowl, so to does the gun stay put ready to be used. Granted, your point of gun manufacturers making the only type of thing made only for the purpose of harming others (though there are arguments for protection, but that protection is again for the determinant of others), they are, however, inanimate objects until someone uses them incorrectly. You make the point of the manufactures being strictly liable for their products. What is the ground for this? Again, I assume it is because there purpose is inherently dangerous. I point to the car, truck, SUV, what have you, while the purpose of said object is not to harm, the use of said objects are inherently dangerous, much like that of a gun. Still, car manufactures are not held strictly liable when their product performs as advertised. When it does cause malfunction there is a recall. However, when the automobile performs as advertised and still an injury occurs there is a law suit. That is, while not the sole purpose of Tort law, it is an avenue for those affected. I digress. When a car is in an accident, the main reason often is human error. Enter the gun. By itself, it does no harm. Add in human error and/or ignorance the affects can and often times are fatal. However, when there is a car accident there is insurance in place for this type of thing, that is not the responsibility of the car manufacture, but of the driver (the human error). Would it not be more just to have legislation worded to have gun owners have gun insurance (though to protect the constitution, it would have to be voluntary)? In the event of an human error causing an accident, be it a gun firing during a cleaning (human error – not unloading it properly), or during an episode similar to Fort Hood (human error – the human welding the gun), there would be a claim adjuster to vindicate an award of damages. If the gun owner did not have insurance then that person (or the estate in maters involving murder/suicides) would be held strictly liable for any and all damages as a result of the human error. I am aware of the many problematic areas of this system, but it is where I think the debate should start.

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