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'It's not hypothetical for us': Why a Toronto family decided to sue U.S. gun behemoth Smith & Wesson

The hardest moment for Kenneth Price, wasn’t when a stranger called from his daughter’s phone and told him she’d been shot. It wasn’t the hours that stretched from that initial call until he finally saw her, then just 17, lying in a hospital bed in downtown Toronto. It wasn’t the isolating night that followed in the Intensive Care Unit. It wasn’t the sudden crash course in gunshot wounds and human anatomy he had to endure. In fact, it wasn’t anything directly to do with his daughter at all.

Samantha Price was shot from behind on July 22, 2018. The bullet, fired from a Smith & Wesson M&P 40 handgun entered her buttock, nicked her hip — fracturing the bone — then travelled through her thigh. “To have a bullet pass through your body and count yourself lucky is a strange way to put it,” said Kenneth Price. But that’s what she was, lucky. The bullet didn’t kill her. It didn’t damage her spine. A year out, she can walk. She can plan her life. But her family isn’t moving on.

Samantha Price was one of 15 people shot, all by the same handgun that night. Two died. Another was left paralyzed. After rampaging down Toronto’s busy Danforth Avenue, the gunman, Faisal Hussain, shot himself. He died in the road.

On Monday, Samantha Price, serving as the lead plaintiff, filed a class-action lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, the company that made the gun Hussain used to shoot her. On behalf of all the victims and their families, the Price family, and the family of another victim, Skye McLeod, are demanding more than $150 million in damages from the American company. Smith & Wesson did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Kenneth Price sat down at a coffee shop just on the other side of the Don River from the Danforth to explain what led them to this moment. “We decided as a family that our reaction to tragedy was going to be, all right, let’s try to get things changed,” he said.

A shooting, even a mass shooting, can be an incredibly isolating event, Price explained. After the attack, Samantha was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery. She had been out that night at her friend Noor Samiei’s birthday party. After dinner downtown, the group, eight of them in all, went to the Danforth to get dessert. In the hospital, the morning after, she had no idea what had happened to her friends. The police had taken her phone. Her father had to bring her an old one to replace it. So the news of the other seven trickled in in dribs and drabs. Four of them had hidden in a basement bathroom. Samiei had tripped and smashed her chin but was otherwise okay. But Samantha couldn’t find out what had happened to Reese Fallon.

“Finally it was Reese’s younger sister who reached out to Sam and told her in a fairly matter of fact way, because I think she was in shock, ‘oh no, Reese was killed,’ ” said Kenneth Price. “I’ve got to say, of all the moments, that was the worst … that was the breakdown moment for all of us.”

In the months after the attack, the Prices slowly connected with the other families. They knew they wanted to do something as a group. But going public, becoming advocates for change, wasn’t an easy choice. “We know we’re going to live with this. It’s going to be more front and centre in our lives because we’re choosing to do this, which I think a lot of people have a hard time with,” Kenneth Price said.

They settled on guns for several reasons. One was that the attacker was already dead. There would be no trial. “We can kind of close that book,” Kenneth Price said. Another was that politically, gun reform was already in the air. It struck them as an area where they could really make changes. At first they attended meetings and issued statements. They met with politicians and activist groups. Eventually, a lawyer got in touch and suggested the lawsuit.

Kenneth Price said they would not have gone ahead with the suit if even one victim or family had objected. They also had to get Samantha to agree to be the lead plaintiff in the case. “Our daughter’s reaction has been pretty remarkable,” he said.

The suit, filed in Ontario Superior Court, is a product liability action, said the victims’ lawyer, Malcolm Ruby. “It’s not about gun control,” he said. “It’s about gun safety.”

The plaintiffs are arguing that Smith & Wesson has known for decades that their guns are likely to be stolen and that it has acknowledged, since at least 2000, that it is feasible to make stolen guns effectively unusable through so-called “Smart Gun” technology. By continuing to manufacturer, market and sell guns without such technology, the company, the plaintiffs argue, has breached its duty of care.

The plaintiffs are demanding more than $150 million in damages, though Kenneth Price insists this is not about the money. It’s about effecting change. It’s about using the opportunity of a horrible, personal tragedy, to do some good. “If this had never happened to us and we’d tried to do this, it would have been much harder,” he said. “(People would have said) ‘Oh, you’re just a bunch of well meaning, well considered, you knows, but it’s hypothetical for you.’ Well, now it’s not hypothetical for us. It gives us license to speak from experience.”


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