What do Guns, Roller Coasters and Bicycles Have In Common?

Sounds like a crazy headline – “Gun Shop Ordered to pay nearly $6 Million” to people injured by gun it sold…

The BIG picture of this story is not about guns at all though – it’s about the power of the CIVIL justice system to put financial pressure on businesses to behave lawfully and about holding businesses which operate illegally accountable for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their illegal behavior.

The story here goes to the heart of a huge problem in the gun world – “straw” buyers – someone who doesn’t qualify to purchase a gun uses some nice [qualified] friend to buy the gun they want – it’s illegal – a serious violation of federal law which can lead to the prosecution of the straw buyer, the person who hired the straw buyer and the gun shop.

Here, 2 police officers were shot in the line of duty by a guy they stopped. That guy wasn’t allowed to buy a gun himself so he used/paid a friend, a”straw” buyer, to buy the gun for him from the defendant gun shop.

From the court evidence the shooter took his buddy, the straw man, to the shop and “… pointed to a Taurus semiautomatic pistol and said, “That’s the one I want,” according to SURVEILLANCE VIDEO… Then he helped his friend,[the straw man] who was struggling to fill out a two-page form. A hovering STORE CLERK helped as well, showing the friend how to correct mistakes and ensure he was listed as the buyer.”

The two cops sued the gun shop in CIVIL court- seeking damages for carelessly allowing the straw purchase.

The “friend” is doing 2 years in prison for participating in the purchase. The shooter got an 80 year sentence or shooting two cops. The gun shop is out of business – but hey… don’t fret, the same owners simply shut down that one and opened a new one. Such is corporate life in America…you can bury the sins of the past in bankruptcy filings or the corporate shell game – then simply reload & fire immediately from the new corporate entity…

The civil justice system can’t put anyone in jail – it can’t prevent bad guys from getting guns – it won’t reach into your home and take your gun and does not prevent qualified buyers from buying as many guns as they want… but the civil justice system CAN provide a very strong financial incentive for gun shops to take the steps required under the law to make sure “Straw” sales don’t happen…

Here, the store’s own surveillance video provided all the evidence the jury needed to determine that the store was “negligent” – NOT “guilty of a crime” but careless in failing to see the straw sale happening in front of its corporate face – indeed, HELPING the straw man complete the forms along with the shooter …

This is the same sort of law which requires bars to stop serving drunks and renders them liable when they DO serve drunks and the very foreseeable bad outcome occurs… you cannot ignore warning signs – a guy falls off the bar stool you’d better stop serving him. A guy points to a gun & tells his buddy “That’s the one I want” – you’d better not make that sale…

Will the judgment hold up on appeal? eh… maybe not… the whole “foreseeability” thing may be a stretch… but this is an example of how the CIVIL justice system can provide another angle to attack greedy, careless, troubling and illegal corporate behavior.

This case is not about “guns” at all – it’s about businesses cheating to make money, and also putting the public at risk through their malfeasance. If a concrete company carelessly, or intentionally, ignores problems in its concrete and as a result a building collapses it can be financially liable for the deaths, injuries and losses – if an amusement park ignores laws regarding safety and a roller coaster flies off the tracks it can be held accountable financially in the civil justice system – If a car manufacturer violates federal law and makes a car that is not crashworthy, it can be held liable financially for the foreseeable injuries and damages… these safety laws are designed to protect the public from the foreseeable results of stupid, careless and illegal behavior.

Where do bicycles fit into this equation. Well, one negative angle, for some anyway, are the “lawyer’s lips” that came into vogue.  Sheldon Brown’s incredible webpage discusses them like this –

  • Because some bicycle users are competent enough to remove their front wheels but not competent enough to secure them properly when they reinstall them, virtually all new bike purchasers have been deprived of the handy function of quick-release front wheels.This has been done by encumbering fork ends with extra hardware, ridges or lumps that keep the wheel sort-of attached even if it has been installed by someone who doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Unfortunately, this means that the quick-release mechanism must be re-adjusted each time it is used, seriously slowing down the operation.Since this extra stuff was installed as a defense against frivolous lawsuits by ambulance-chasing shysters, the extra bumps are sometimes known as “lawyer lips” or “lawyer tabs.”

    As “lawyer lips” have become the norm, they have gradually become more important than they originally were, for two reasons:

  • The prevalence of these secondary retention systems in front, and vertical dropouts in the rear has caused the proliferation of inferior skewer designs that are cheaper to manufacture, but much less secure than traditional skewers.
  • The introduction of disc brakes has caused increased vulnerability of the front axle and skewer, due to the disc brake applying an ejection force that tends to pull the axle out of the fork.

Here, many would argue that the civil justice system failed. I disagree. While hardcore cyclists had no problem with manipulating quick release skewers, bicycles were these racing-oriented features were sold to everyone.  Experts would testify as to how difficult it was to properly set the tension on the skewer. Often failures occurred on the 1st ride, or after the 1st attempt by the novice to attach the wheel to the frame. The failures, when they occurred, were often catastrophic. The higher the risk, the higher the duty of care the law imposes…

Another area where civil justice intertwined with cycling was in the infamous “Skid-Lid” helmet litigation in the 1980s, as well as in any number of product defect cases and crashes arising out of investigations by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

While the civil justice system is primarily aimed at compensating the victims for losses, when companies are forced to pay for catastrophic damages, they often end up changing their business practices to avoid similar payouts in the future… hitting for-profit businesses in the money belt is usually the most effective mechanism to use to effect change…

Businesses are in business to make money – when they make it through illegal sales, it can come back to bite them… there’s a very good reason why “straw” purchases are illegal – when the gun shop buries its head in the sand and ignores the blatant warning signals that a “straw” purchase is happening it risks some huge financial, and criminal, penalties…

Printed from: http://www.ohiobikelawyer.com/bike-law-101/2015/10/what-do-guns-roller-coasters-and-bicycles-have-in-common/ .
© 2016.

1 Comment   »

  • khal spencer says:

    Well said, Steve. A couple things.

    As a gun nut (I bet you didn’t know that…) who has managed to stay out of trouble with guns for fifty years since getting my first hunting rifle from my dad, I am glad to see that gun shop in Minnesota suffering with a huge judgement AND I HOPE IT STICKS . As I said on my other blog, North Mesa Mutts, we gun nuts are caught between the rock of bad actors and the hard place of gun abolition. We don’t need gun shops and straw buyers making stuff worse. NPR also covered that story and the sight of those two cops, one obviously missing an eye, made me sad and angry.

    Second, I have long worried that the bike biz and bike advocacy have wanted to make bicycling universal but not made the bicycle universal. As you said, not only did the law of unintended consequences result from “lawyer lips”, i.e., inferior quick releases, more complicated wheel mounting, and now bad physics when combined with disk brake design, but unless you are a cyclist (as opposed to someone who rides a bike), that is a design that may be too advanced, leading to accidents. We need bicycles to match rider expectations. Just as not everyone should be driving a high strung race car, not everyone needs a race bike with wheels that can be swapped out in seconds during a road race.

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