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In Re 101 California Street: A Legal and Economic Analysis of Strict Liability for the Manufacture and Sale of 'Assault Weapons'

22 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2013  

Joseph Edward Olson

Hamline University - School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 1997


In the case In Re 101 California Street, the California Superior Court’s decision to allow the plaintiffs’ strict liability, common law negligence, and negligence per se counts past a motion to dismiss was a surprise to many in the legal community. In reaching his novel ruling, Judge Warren explained that this case differed from the “typical gun case.” He claimed to be basing his ruling on California Assembly’s “carefully considered legislative decision” to distinguish so-called assault weapons from other types of firearms, as evidenced by the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA) of 1989.

This article critically examines the legal and economic theories underlying two California statutes crucial to the reasoning of 101 California Street: California Civil Code Rule 1714.4 which limits recovery by plaintiffs under a strict liability theory, and the AWCA, which the 101 California Street court uses to create an exception to California Civil Code Rule 1714.4 and to distinguish the case from existing legal precedent.

Both other courts and the California Assembly have recognized the limits of the tort law system as a method of controlling the horrible tragedies caused by the use of firearms to facilitate crime. The court in 101 California Street should follow judicial precedent, as well as the legislative mandate set out in California Civil Code Rule 1714.4, by focusing on the action of the individual responsible for committing the crime rather than on remote third parties such as firearm manufacturers. Any other outcome will do little to curb crime, will arbitrarily punch law-abiding citizens, and will further strain this nation’s tort law system. Moreover, comprehensive analysis suggests little validity to the claim that the California Assembly’s passage of the AWCA provides a rational basis to depart from the common law precedent embodied in California Code Rule 1714.4, an entirely separate enactment specifically intended to govern the development of tort law.

Keywords: Gun, weapons, firearm, California Superior Court, Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, AWCA, Civil Code Rule 1714.4, strict liability, common law negligence

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Olson, Joseph Edward, In Re 101 California Street: A Legal and Economic Analysis of Strict Liability for the Manufacture and Sale of 'Assault Weapons' (January 1, 1997). Stanford Law & Policy Review, Vol. 8, p. 41, 1997 . Available at SSRN:

Joseph Edward Olson (Contact Author)

Hamline University - School of Law ( email )

1536 Hewitt Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104-1237
United States

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