Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, No. CV-95-0049 (JBW).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtWeinstein
Citation62 F.Supp.2d 802
PartiesFreddie HAMILTON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. ACCU-TEK, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. CV-95-0049 (JBW).
Decision Date03 June 1999
62 F.Supp.2d 802
Freddie HAMILTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ACCU-TEK, et al., Defendants.
No. CV-95-0049 (JBW).
United States District Court, E.D. New York.
June 3, 1999.

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Elisa Barnes, Weitz & Luxenberg by Denise M. Dunleavy, Schulte Roth & Zabel, LLP, New York, NY, by Mark E. Elovitz, Michael S. Feldberg, for Plaintiffs.

Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, Chicago, IL by James P. Dorr, Anne Giddings Kimball, for Defendants Sturm, Ruger, Colt's Manufacturing, Smith & Wesson.

Pino & Associates, Westchester Financial Center, White Plains, NY by Lawrence G. Keane, for Defendants Beretta USA Corp., Beretta Firearms.

Cozen & O'Connor, Atlanta, GA by Timothy A. Bumann, for Defendants Taurus, Bryco, Jennings, American Derringer, Lorcin, Sundance and others.

Renzulli & Rutherford, New York, NY by John F. Renzulli, Leonard S. Rosenbaum, Fred E. Scharf, for Defendants Accu-Tek, Arcadia Machine & Tool Co., Inc., Browning Arms Co., Davis Industries, Inc., European American Armory Corp., Freedom Arms, Glock, Inc., H & R 1871, Inc., K.B.I., Inc., Mitchell Arms, Inc., Navegar, Inc. d/b/a Intratec, Olympic Arms, Inc., Para-Ordnance Mfg., Inc., Springfield, Inc. and Thompson/Center Arms Co.

Morgan, Melhuish, Monaghan, Arvidson, Abrutyn & Lisowski, New York, NY by Daniel T. Hughes, Erin A. O'Leary, for Defendant American Arms.

Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, New York, NY by Robert L. Joyce, for Defendant Sigarms, Inc.

AMENDED MEMORANDUM, ORDER AND JUDGMENT

WEINSTEIN, Senior District Judge.


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 TABLE OF CONTENTS
                 I. INTRODUCTION ............................................. 808
                 II. FACTS .................................................... 808
                 A. Stephen Fox ........................................... 808
                 B. Njuzi Ray ............................................. 809
                 C. Roberto Robles ........................................ 809
                 D. Leroy Sabb ............................................ 809
                 E. Damon Slade ........................................... 809
                 F. Kei Sunada ............................................ 809
                 G. Marvin Zaretsky ....................................... 810
                III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY ....................................... 810
                 A. Pre-Trial Proceedings ................................. 810
                 B. Claims of Parties and Jury Instructions ............... 810
                 C. Verdicts .............................................. 811
                 1. Negligence ......................................... 811
                 2. Proximate Cause .................................... 811
                 3. Damages ............................................ 811
                 a. Veronica Trott and Koichi Sunada ................ 811
                 b. Stephen Fox ..................................... 811
                 IV. LAW AND ITS APPLICATION .................................. 812
                 A. Motion to Dismiss — Collateral Estoppel ............... 812
                 1. Law ................................................ 812
                 2. Application ........................................ 814
                 B. Motion to Amend Pleadings ............................. 815
                 1. Law ................................................ 815
                 2. Application ........................................ 817
                 C. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law ................ 817
                 D. Negligence ............................................ 818
                 1. Duty ............................................... 818
                 a. Law ............................................. 818
                 i. Liability for the Acts of Third Parties ..... 819
                 ii. Duties of Manufacturers ..................... 822
                 b. Application ..................................... 824
                 2. Breach ............................................. 827
                 a. Law ............................................. 827
                 b. Application ..................................... 829
                 3. Causation .......................................... 833
                 a. Law ............................................. 833
                 i. Proximate Cause ............................. 833
                 ii. Intervening Cause ........................... 833
                 iii. Mass Tort Causation ......................... 834
                 b. Application ..................................... 835
                 4. Apportionment of Liability ......................... 839
                 a. Law ............................................. 839
                 i. Available Theories .......................... 839
                 ii. Policy Considerations ....................... 841
                 b. Application ..................................... 843
                 5. Damages ............................................ 846
                 a. Law ............................................. 846
                 b. Application ..................................... 846
                 V. NEW TRIAL ................................................ 847
                 VI. CERTIFICATION ............................................ 847
                 VI. CONCLUSION ............................................... 848
                

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APPENDIX A — RELEVANT PORTIONS OF JURY INSTRUCTIONS............. 848
                APPENDIX B — VERDICT FORM FOR STEPHEN AND GAIL FOX AS COMPLETED
                BY JURY .............................................................. 850
                

I. INTRODUCTION

Relatives of six people killed by handguns, as well as one injured survivor and his mother, have sued twenty-five handgun manufacturers for negligence. They claim that the manufacturers' indiscriminate marketing and distribution practices generated an underground market in handguns, providing youths and violent criminals like the shooters in these cases with easy access to the instruments they have used with lethal effect.

Defendants collectively supply most of the United States market for handguns. Among them are foreign manufacturers (e.g., Para Ordnance Manufacturing, Inc.), United States subsidiaries of foreign corporations (e.g., Browning Arms Co., Beretta U.S.A. Corp. and Smith & Wesson Corp.), old-line domestic manufacturers (e.g., Colt's Manufacturing, and Sturm, Ruger & Co.), and newer gun makers specializing in the manufacture of inexpensive small and medium caliber semiautomatic pistols (e.g., Jennings Firearms, Bryco Arms, and Davis Industries). See generally Tom Diaz, Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America 3-35 (1999); Garen J. Wintemute, M.D., The Relationship Between Firearm Design and Firearm Violence, 275 JAMA 1749 (1996).

Plaintiffs' claims raise novel issues of duty and of collective liability under governing New York state law. For this reason, it is respectfully recommended that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit certify these substantive law questions to the New York Court of Appeals for definitive resolution.

After a four-week trial, the jury found negligent fifteen of the defendants; nine of them were found to have proximately caused injury to one or more plaintiffs. Damages were found only in favor of plaintiff Steven Fox and his mother, Gail Fox, against American Arms, Inc. (.23% liability), Beretta U.S.A. Corp. (6.03% liability), and Taurus International Manufacturing, Inc. (6.8% liability).

Three motions are currently pending: defendants' motion to dismiss on the ground of collateral estoppel, defendants' Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law, and plaintiffs' Rule 15(b) motion to amend the pleadings to conform to the proof. For reasons set forth below, defendants' motions must be denied, and plaintiffs' amendment granted.

Default judgments were awarded by the court in favor of two of the plaintiffs, Veronica Trott and Maria Santana, for 100% of their damages against Cobray Firearms, Inc., which failed to appear or answer. See Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 1999 WL 169523, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 1999). The court found that the gun was manufactured by Cobray and that the plaintiffs did suffer damages. These independent findings by the court do not control evaluation of the evidence by the jury in the instant case. See Joseph v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 87, 93 (2d Cir.1999) ("The fact that there may have been evidence to support an inference contrary to that drawn by the trier of fact does not mean that the findings were clearly erroneous.").

II. FACTS

A. Stephen Fox

Stephen Fox was shot in Queens, New York on November 14, 1994. He was sixteen years old at the time, as was his friend, the shooter, Alfred Adkins, Jr. Mr. Fox survived, but a bullet remains lodged in his brain, causing severe permanent disability. There was evidence that the handgun Mr. Adkins used had been bought by him a short time before the shooting from a seller — unlikely to have been licensed —

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who declared it came from "the south" when he dispensed it from the trunk of a car.

Charged initially with attempted murder, Mr. Adkins later pled guilty to reckless endangerment in Queens County Family Court. A .25 caliber spent cartridge case was recovered from the crime scene. The gun used to shoot Mr. Fox was never found. Mr. Adkins testified at his deposition that he did not recall how he came to possess it.

Suit was initially brought by Gail Fox, Mr. Fox's mother and guardian. When Mr. Fox attained his majority, he was substituted as plaintiff. Ms. Fox remained in the case, suing on her own behalf for loss of her son's services and for her own nursing care of him.

B. Njuzi Ray

Njuzi Ray was shot and killed in Brooklyn, New York on July 27, 1993. He was seventeen years old. The shooting appears to have resulted from a dispute about girlfriends. It occurred as Mr. Ray and his friends walked toward Reginald Cooper's home in an attempt to settle the disagreement. Mr. Cooper was charged with murder, but was subsequently acquitted. The handgun used in the shooting was never recovered. 9 millimeter casings and one 9 millimeter caliber bullet were retrieved from the crime scene. An additional 9 millimeter caliber bullet was removed from Mr. Ray's body during the autopsy.

Mr. Ray's mother, Freddie Hamilton, sued for her son's estate.

C. Roberto Robles

Roberto Robles was shot and killed in Bronx, New York on March 23, 1994. He was sixteen years old. Four people were arrested...

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15 practice notes
  • Kramer v. Lockwood Pension Services, Inc., No. 08 Civ. 2429 (DAB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 1, 2009
    ...questions of state law with any certitude. Falise v. American Tobacco Co., 94 F.Supp.2d 316, 356 (E.D.N.Y.2000); Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 847 (E.D.N.Y.1999). Of course, federal courts must be more conservative in resolving novel issues of state law than the highest state cour......
  • Philadelphia v. Beretta U.S.A., Corp., Browning, Inc., CIVIL ACTION NO. 2000-CV-2463 (E.D. Pa. 12/20/2000), CIVIL ACTION NO. 2000-CV-2463.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • December 20, 2000
    ...v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., No. C-990729, 2000 WL 1133078, at *9-10 (Ohio Ct. App. Aug. 11, 2000). But see Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, Inc., 62 F. Supp.2d 802, 825 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (currently certified to New York Court of Appeals); Merrill v. Navegar, Inc., 75 Cal.App.4th 500 (1999) superseded by gr......
  • Silivanch v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., No. 95 Civ. 0374BSJJCF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 28, 2001
    ...when used for the intended purpose. See Cacciola v. Selco Balers, Inc., 127 F.Supp.2d 175, 185 (E.D.N.Y. 2001); Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 822 (E.D.N.Y.1999); Liriano v. Hobart Corp., 92 N.Y.2d 232, 237, 677 N.Y.S.2d 764, 766, 700 N.E.2d 303 (1998). Thus, for example, an automo......
  • Easaw v. Newport, Civil Action No. 17-00028 (BAH).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • May 12, 2017
    ...a lower state court vis-à -vis the New York Court of Appeals in construing state substantive law under Erie ."); Hamilton v. Accu–Tek , 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 847 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (stating that "[i]t must be remembered that no federal court can speak to questions of state law with any certitude[,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Kramer v. Lockwood Pension Services, Inc., No. 08 Civ. 2429 (DAB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 1, 2009
    ...questions of state law with any certitude. Falise v. American Tobacco Co., 94 F.Supp.2d 316, 356 (E.D.N.Y.2000); Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 847 (E.D.N.Y.1999). Of course, federal courts must be more conservative in resolving novel issues of state law than the highest state cour......
  • Philadelphia v. Beretta U.S.A., Corp., Browning, Inc., CIVIL ACTION NO. 2000-CV-2463 (E.D. Pa. 12/20/2000), CIVIL ACTION NO. 2000-CV-2463.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • December 20, 2000
    ...v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp., No. C-990729, 2000 WL 1133078, at *9-10 (Ohio Ct. App. Aug. 11, 2000). But see Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, Inc., 62 F. Supp.2d 802, 825 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (currently certified to New York Court of Appeals); Merrill v. Navegar, Inc., 75 Cal.App.4th 500 (1999) superseded by gr......
  • Silivanch v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., No. 95 Civ. 0374BSJJCF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • September 28, 2001
    ...when used for the intended purpose. See Cacciola v. Selco Balers, Inc., 127 F.Supp.2d 175, 185 (E.D.N.Y. 2001); Hamilton v. Accu-Tek, 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 822 (E.D.N.Y.1999); Liriano v. Hobart Corp., 92 N.Y.2d 232, 237, 677 N.Y.S.2d 764, 766, 700 N.E.2d 303 (1998). Thus, for example, an automo......
  • Easaw v. Newport, Civil Action No. 17-00028 (BAH).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • May 12, 2017
    ...a lower state court vis-à -vis the New York Court of Appeals in construing state substantive law under Erie ."); Hamilton v. Accu–Tek , 62 F.Supp.2d 802, 847 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (stating that "[i]t must be remembered that no federal court can speak to questions of state law with any certitude[,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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