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Illinois family seeks to sue gun manufacturer over boy's death

By Chris Rizo | Aug 30, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The family of an Illinois boy who was fatally shot by his friend have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal law that protects gun companies from most civil lawsuits.

The family of Joshua Adames want the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 overturned, a move that would allow them to sue a gun manufacturer over the 13-year-old boy's accidental death.

Adames was killed after his friend, 13-year-old Billy Swan, aimed and fired a Beretta 92FS semiautomatic pistol at him. The gun belonged to Swan's father, a Cook County sheriff's deputy who was working as a correctional officer.

Court papers say Swan took the magazine clip out of the gun before firing it, but a single bullet that had remained in the chamber killed Adames.

A lawsuit was filed against Beretta U.S.A. Corp. and Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, among other defendants, claiming that the gun maker failed to warn users that simply removing the clip did not render the gun safe.

In an amicus before the Illinois Supreme Court, the Pacific Legal Foundation argued that neither the Cook County Sheriff's Department nor Beretta should be held liable for the accidental death that was caused by unforeseeable conduct.

The lawsuit was ultimately rejected by the Illinois Supreme Court in March. The state high court ruled that because the trigger was intentionally pulled, an exemption in the 2005 federal law did not apply to the case.

Now, the Adames petition to the U.S. Supreme Court says states should be free to create their own laws when the authority has not been given to Congress.

"This case raises core issues of federalism and statutory construction that have confounded the lower courts, and require clarification from this Court: Does the Tenth Amendment permit Congress to dictate which branch of state government may authorize liability against a particular industry so long as the federal enactment does not 'commandeer' state officials?" the petition for review says.

Beretta U.S.A.'s response to the Supreme Court appeal is due by Sept. 28. The petition for a writ of certiorari in the case of Adames, et al., v. Beretta USA Corp. was filed Monday. It was docketed as 09-253.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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