Survivors and victims’ families of the mass shooting at Walmart in El Paso are calling attorneys for legal representation, even while experts say it’s still too soon to know who might face liability.
Since the Aug. 3 Texas attack, police have arrested an armed man who caused chaos at a Walmart store in Springfield, Missouri, and another who allegedly threatened Walmart customers with a pellet gun in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
Now, plaintiffs lawyers appear to be in the mix.
Until the investigation in the El Paso shooting is complete and all of the facts come out, there’s no way to tell who’s exposed to risk, or for what conduct, according to three attorneys with experience with mass shooting cases.
But one thing’s almost certain, industry experts say: Litigation often follows mass shootings in the United States.
‘Zero armed guards’
The shooter in El Paso entered a Walmart store on Aug. 3 with an AK-47 assault rifle and multiple magazines, and killed 22 people and injured at least a dozen others, according to the Associated Press. Because the shooter told law enforcement he was targeting Mexicans, prosecutors are considering filing hate-crime charges against the suspect, who’s imprisoned without bond on a capital murder charge.
Houston attorney Rob Ammons, who’s representing shooting victims in lawsuits for nearly three decades, said he’s already received calls from three different law firms that were seeking his advice for El Paso cases.
“It’s my understanding the Walmart superstore at this location had zero armed guards employed there for security,” said Ammons, founding partner of The Ammons Law Firm in Houston. “Walmart has other stores in other locations where they have armed security. Why not here?”
He said that mass shootings have become so common in the United States that he feels they are foreseeable in any location that attracts mass gatherings of people.
“If you are going to operate as a store, with that many people in it, you need to be doing what’s reasonable to protect those people,” he explained.
No one from Walmart’s corporate communications team returned an email seeking comment.
However, generally speaking, premises liability claims over negligent security are not the most common case type after a mass shooting. It’s more common to see litigation against gun sellers for irresponsibly or illegally selling weapons to those mass shooters who shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun.
For this reason, the bulk of lawyers’ investigations into the El Paso shooting will probably focus on the facts surrounding how the shooter obtained his guns, said Jamal Alsaffar, partner in Whitehurst, Harkness, Brees, Cheng, Alsaffar, Higginbotham, & Jacob in Austin.
“How did someone like this so easily get such a dangerous weapon so quickly?” asked Alsaffar, who is currently representing victims of the 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Those plaintiffs allege in multiple lawsuits that the shooter had a criminal history preventing him from legally purchasing firearms, and that legal failures by the U.S. government and a gun retailer allowed him to buy guns anyways.
Lawsuits against gun sellers are the most common type for Erin Davis, senior counsel for trial and appellate litigation at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that uses education, litigation and legislation to try to end America’s gun violence epidemic.
Gun sellers must follow a multitude of federal and state regulations about selling firearms, Davis explained. When a gun dealer fails to comply with regulations and sells a gun in violation of the law, that retailer faces liability.
“Brady has had great success bringing cases against irresponsible gun companies that negligently and illegally sell guns,” said Davis. “We’ve done cases like this all over the country.”