In a horrible turn of events, the family of a shooting victim have been faced with more than $200,000 in legal costs after a judge ordered them to pay attorney’s fees for four ammunition dealers the family tried to sue.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips lost 24-year-old daughter Jessica Ghawi in the 2012 movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and their attempts to seek some form of justice has cost them dearly.
Speaking to MSNBC, Lonnie Phillips said:
They have taken our daughter, and now they want to take our worldly goods. I think that’s a little much.
Unfortunately, according to legal experts, the outcome of the case isn’t that surprising and the fee is not actually that high for a case of this nature.
Robyn Thomas, executive director of the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, explained:
You’d be shocked by how quickly fees can go up very, very high (with) the amount of time that’s spent preparing these lawsuits and working on their defence.
The case was actually dismissed before a trial could take place because of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, a federal law passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush in 2005.
What PLCAA does is it provides very broad, blanket immunity from civil lawsuits for both gun manufacturers and gun dealers. This is one example of a situation where somebody has tried to address liability, to go after bad actions of a dealer or manufacturer and PLCAA kept them from being able to do so.
One of the few exceptions that allows arms dealers to be held liable for shootings like the Aurora massacre is “negligent entrustment”, that is selling to someone knowing, or in a position where they should have known, that the weapons or ammo would be used in a criminal act.
This is the exception that the Phillips family was attempting to use, asserting that because Holmes was purchasing thousands of rounds of assault weapon ammunition, they should have spotted a problem.
Federal Judge Richard P. Matsch disagreed, however, and dismissed the case calling it an act made for “political purposes” meant to “propagandise the public and stigmatize the defendants”, and ordered the Phillips family to foot the bill.
Ultimately, the tally of costs accrued in the Phillips’ $200,000 bill includes everything from attorney’s fees to travel, and even small charges like postage, which seems pretty disgraceful to us.
The family recently dropped an appeal of the judge’s order because they said any additional legal fees would force them into bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, he trial of the Aurora shooter James Holmes, who murdered 12 people in the attack, is ongoing, with a verdict expected soon.
NBC Bay Area