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Hamilton v. Beretta U.S.A. Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The manufacturers of handguns were sued for the failure to exercise reasonable care in their distribution of handguns to the appropriate markets. The manufacturers of handguns appealed on the basis that they had no special relationship to consumers.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A defendant does not have a duty to prevent a third party from harming others.

    Facts.

    The families of victims who died from gun violence sued the manufacturers of handguns alleging that the negligent distribution of handguns resulted in an illegal market that led to the circulation of handguns to criminals and minors. The jury determined that the manufacturers of the handguns did not exercise reasonable care in distributing the handguns to the appropriate markets and the district court found that those manufacturers had a special relationship to protect consumers from the potential misuse of the handguns. The manufacturers appealed on the basis that they owed no duty of care to the plaintiffs.

    Issue.

    Whether a defendant has a duty to prevent a third party from harming others?

    Held.

    No. Reversed.

    Discussion.

    A negligence claim stands when the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff. The duty of care to the plaintiff must be the result of a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. Because the duty of care has to be between the defendant and the third party or the defendant and the plaintiff, gun manufacturers owe no duty of care when there is an infinite chain of manufacturers, retailers, distributers, consumers, and victims. The connection between the third party tortfeasor, defendant, and the plaintiff is remote, relieving the defendant of liability for the third party’s conduct.


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