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It has been two years since a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival claimed the lives of three people and injured 17, but pandemic-related court delays have not stopped victims and families from seeking justice.
Last week, lawyers representing 12 victims and families announced the addition of a fourth defendant to their long-delayed lawsuit.
Century Arms LLC, gun manufacturer of the military-grade weapon used in the shooting, is the latest to join the list of defendants that also includes the city of Gilroy, festival organizers and the private security firm hired that weekend.
The lawsuit, first filed in November 2019, was delayed because of COVID-related court closures, but now lawyers are ready to move forward again.
“(Victims) did not sign up to serve in a war zone when they chose to enjoy the festival, but they entered a war zone.”Jonathan Lowy, Brady chief counsel
On July 23, the Santa Clara County Superior Court granted approval to amend the complaint and add Century Arms as a defendant.
Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel for the anti-gun violence organization Brady and one of the attorneys representing the victims, said the gun manufacturer is uniquely complicit in allowing the tragedy to take place because they marketed and sold the WASR-10 military-style assault rifle used in the shooting.
“(Victims) did not sign up to serve in a war zone when they chose to enjoy the festival, but they entered a war zone,” said Lowy. “The reason they were subject to a war zone is because there are companies in America who are indiscriminately and recklessly, selling weapons of war to the civilian population, (like Century Arms LLC.)”
He argued that by selling military-grade weapons to civilians, it was inevitable that those military-grade assaults would in turn be used on civilians.
“That’s why we are here,” Lowy said.
Shooting survivor Wendy Towner said the last two years have been the most difficult of her life as she has undergone several surgeries, with another leg surgery scheduled in October; in addition to the PTSD that she, her husband and her 3-year-old son are experiencing.
“My husband and I have millions of dollars in medical bills — those are the wounds you can see,” Towner said. “I along with 1,000s of visitors and attendees have wounds that cannot be seen on the surface … unrelenting years of trauma that will haunt you.”
Lawyers said victims and families did not see financial or emotional support from any of the defendants either, which is another reason for the suit.
“They did not respond in any meaningful manner,” said Randall Scarlett, Principal at Scarlett Law Group and the second lawyer representing the 12 victims. “They did not as far as any of my clients are concerned, provide any information regarding the circumstances of the event … or (any support) directly from the defendants.”
He said some victims were compensated by the state, legally known as collateral sources, but “nothing close to what one would consider adequate compensation if there is such a thing.”
The original lawsuit filed in 2019 alleges negligence, multiple liability charges, and wrongful death against the original three defendants. The new amendment includes product liability, negligence, and public nuisance charges against Century Arms LLC.
Scarlett and Lowy are confident they can win the lawsuit and prove that Century Arms LLC was in violation of federal law and all standards of care.
This is because the gun, which is imported from abroad, can be easily modified to fire automatically — something Lowy said is a violation of federal firearms and import laws.
“The bottom line is, if you’re going to be selling a military style weapon to the public, you have to use extreme care,” Lowy said. “That’s just common sense. You do not recklessly indiscriminately sell to the general public.”
It is unclear when the case will go to trial, but Scarlett said it will likely be in a year from now.