Online Gun Exchange Not Liable for Murder Victim’s Death, Appeals Court Says

Wall Street Journal – by Ashby Jones

Lawsuits against websites that facilitate private firearm sales might not fare much better, judging from a federal appeals court ruling handed down Tuesday.

The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld a trial judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the brother of a woman killed with a handgun purchased through, an online marketplace for privately owned guns. The three-judge panel ruled that Armslist did not owe a “duty of care” to the plaintiff or his sister, and therefore the plaintiff could not prove negligence.  

The quick backstory: In 2011, according to the opinion, Jitka Vesel was shot with a handgun illegally purchased by Demetry Smirnov, a Russian immigrant living in Canada. Mr. Smirnov found the weapon through, and purchased the gun in Seattle from a man named Benedict Ladera for $400. Because Mr. Smirnov lived in Canada, and had crossed state lines to buy the gun, the purchase violated federal law.

Soon thereafter, according to the opinion, Mr. Smirnov went to Chicago and began stalking Ms. Vesel, whom he met online but who spurned his romantic advances. In April, 2013, Mr. Smirnov shot and killed Ms. Vesel with the firearm purchased illegally from Mr. Ladera.

Ultimately, Mr. Smirnov pleaded guilty to murder; Mr. Ladera pleaded guilty to illegally selling a firearm.

Ms. Vesel’s brother, Alex Vesely, sued neither Mr. Smirnov nor Mr. Ladera. Rather, he sued, alleging that’s negligence contributed to Ms. Vesel’s death.

The lower court disagreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. On Tuesday, the court upheld that ruling, finding, in essence, that encouraged no one to behave illegally, and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible.

Wrote the court:

Armslist permitted [the seller] to place an advertisement on its website and nothing more. It did not invite [the seller or buyer] to break the law. [The] allegations fall short of alleging any cognizable negligence claim for which Armslist could be held responsible for [the buyer’s] acts.

Lawyers for Mr. Vesely did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.

A lawyer for, James Vogts, told Law Blog that “while Ms. Vesel’s death was a tragedy, this was a lawsuit that had no merit and should never have been filed.”

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