October 8, 2021
The Firearms Dealer and Importer Liability Act, a/k/a/ the Protecting Heartbeats Act, HB4156, which was introduced in Illinois on September 28, 2021 would hold firearms manufacturers, importers and dealers strictly liable for any bodily injury or death caused by the unlawful discharge of a firearm in Illinois. It would allow anyone, other than a state or local government official, to sue for injunctive relief, statutory damages of at least $10,000 and costs and attorney fees. HB4156 broadly defines a “dealer” as “any person or entity that transfers a firearm to another person or entity,” not just federally licensed firearms dealers. Firearms manufacturers, importers and “dealers” would be strictly liable for any bodily injury or death caused by the unlawful discharge of a firearm, regardless of whether or not they were at fault, or the firearm was defective. Persons and entities, other than state or local government officials, are allowed to sue, even if they do not have any relationship to the person who was killed or injured by the unlawful discharge of a firearm.
In addition to imposing strict liability, HB4156 requires all firearm manufacturers, importers and “dealers” to “execute a written document that certifies that the firearm shall not be used to cause bodily injury or death,” and maintain such documents with their records. A defendant can only be required to pay statutory damages once for each unlawful discharge of a firearm, but such an action does not prevent a lawsuit from being filed on behalf of the person who was actually killed or injured by the unlawful discharge of the firearm.
The strict liability that HB4156 seeks to impose against federally licensed firearms manufacturers, importers and dealers should be barred by the immunity provided by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”). The highest court of the District of Columbia previous held that a similar strict liability statute enacted by the District of Columbia was barred by the PLCAA. The immunity provided by the PLCAA, however, would not apply to the “dealers” who do not have federal firearms licenses, and if enacted, HB4156 would impose additional record keeping requirements on federal firearms licensees in Illinois.
The sponsor of the HB4156 stated that it is modeled after the recently passed abortion statute in Texas, and it may have been introduced more for publicity than with the expectation of it being enacted. Renzulli Law Firm will continue to monitor any developments regarding HB4156. If you have any questions concerning HB4156 or the PLCAA, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.