When we think of wrongful death cases we often think of fatal car, truck or motorcycle accidents on the highways of Georgia. However, a recent Texas mass shooting raises the prospect of legal action against the Air Force.
Last November, Devin Kelley killed 26 worshippers in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Kelley should never have been allowed to purchase the AR-15 military-style assault rifle he used for the killings. When he served in the U.S. Air Force, he was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged for domestic assault.
However, the Air Force never reported the conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database which is used for gun-buying background checks.
The Air Force later admitted that Kelley’s domestic violence conviction should have been input into a database. It promised to conduct a review of similar cases to Kelley’s to determine if others had been properly reported.
Investigations suggest the military is routinely failing to report domestic abusers to the gun-buying database. An investigation by Newsweek found just one case of domestic violence reported by all branches of the military.
The lack of reporting could open up the military to liability in a civil lawsuit.
Although government agencies are often granted immunity from such lawsuits based on discretionary judgments, Timothy Lytton, a professor of law at Georgia State University, told Reuters the Air Force may not be able to claim immunity in the case of Kelley.
In the case of the Texas shooter’s domestic violence conviction, the Air Force did not comply with a legal requirement. A failure of this nature does not fall within the service’s discretion, Lytton argues.
Yale Law School professor Peter Schuck told Reuters immunity would likely not bar a wrongful death or injury lawsuit filed by the victims and their families against the Air Force given Kelley’s ability to purchase firearms.
The apparent admission by the Air Force that it failed to meet its legal requirement appears to confirm negligence in the case of the Texas shooter.
However, it remains to be seen whether the Air Force’s clear failure was a proximate cause of the mass deaths in Texas.
Any wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit against the Air Force would be heard by a single judge rather than a jury. The courts have generally declined to find entities other than the shooters themselves liable for mass shooting deaths.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligent actions of another, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Georgia. Call our Newnan lawyer at (404) 913-1529.