After a years-long legal battle with the maker of the rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, victims’ families are deliberating over a $33 million settlement offer from Remington Arms.
The offer, presented by the now-bankrupt gunmakers in court documents on Tuesday, comes just a day after a judge denied the company’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the sum falls far short of what families have previously said they expected.
In court documents, earlier this year, they argued that wrongful death settlements could reach $225 million and expected total punitive claims could exceeding $1 billion.
But the offer this week would distribute only about $3.7 million to each family.
A lawyer for the families told the BBC they would “consider their next steps” regarding the proposed settlement.
Meanwhile, after two bankruptcies filings by Remington and years of legal tussles that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, the case is scheduled to go to court soon. Jury selection is scheduled for September.
Victims survivors are driven by a desire to effect societal changes
Jonathan E. Lowy, Chief Counsel for Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has represented victims’ families and survivors of mass shootings for more than 20 years in so-called “impact litigation” cases.
Those are lawsuits focused on changing laws and broader policies, beyond the particular case involved.
Lowy is not involved with the nine families who claim Remington is liable for the deaths of six adults and 20 children as the manufacturer and marketer of the Bushmaster assault-style rifle used in the 2012 massacre. But, he told NPR, “I’ve certainly been in this situation many, many times over the years and lived the experience of working through their decision making.”
He noted several similarities between the families in the Sandy Hook case and those he’s worked with in the past.
“In my experience, victims and survivors, while they realize that no amount of money can come close to compensating them for the harm that can cause them, they generally do understand that it’s important to force gun companies that act irresponsibly, and their insurance companies, to internalize the harm that they cause.”
One of the most effective ways to do that is to ensure that it is a powerful financial blow, he said.
“Without it,” he said, “it’s all profit to them and other people die.”
How to get pass feelings of guilt
Lowy did not address questions about the $33 million offer on the table — whether it is too low considering the death toll and the age of the victims. But, he said he, and attorneys in general, have an obligation to discuss the range of options that can happen in a case. “And that’s going to include very negative options or very positive options.”
It is imperative for clients to be fully aware of the risks, benefits, and uncertainties involved in litigation, he added.
He also acknowledged that in the final stages of negotiating a settlement, some victim survivors who have tragically lost a loved one in an act of violence can feel a sense of guilt over accepting any amount of money.
When such issues arise, Lowy said he urges them to seek help in processing their grief. But he also reminds them “that they’re bringing a case to make a positive change … and the money is an important part of forcing that change.”
“I do think that lessens guilt to some extent,” he said.