Uvalde Families Sue ‘Call of Duty’ Maker, Instagram Over School Shooting

Two years after the devastating massacre at Uvalde Elementary School in May 2022, families of victims killed in the shooting filed a new lawsuit against several defendants, including Instagram’s parent company Meta, the publisher behind the ‘Call of Duty’ first-person shooter video game, and Daniel Defense, the company that makes the firearms used in the shooting. Daniel Defense has already been named as a defendant in several cases related to the Uvalde shooting. Activision and Meta are new targets of litigation.

Man playing video games

BySeth Mills, J.D.


Published on June 25, 2024

Man playing video games

A Defective Product, Marketed Negligently

The plaintiffs allege that playing Call of Duty over several years, combined with aggressive marketing on Instagram of the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting, created a feedback loop that directly links the defendants to the conduct of the shooter, Salvador Ramos.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Activision knowingly made and marketed a defective product, Call of Duty, to minors. In three major school shootings over the past 15 years, at Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Uvalde, the gunmen have been teenage boys using assault weapons that appear in the Call of Duty game. All three teens had played Call of Duty for years prior to the massacres. Salvador Ramos, who was 18 when he committed the Uvalde massacre, had been playing the game since he was 15 years old

The complaint also alleges that Instagram negligently turned a blind eye to the illegal marketing of firearms to minors by Daniel Defense. It calls Activision, Daniel Defense, and Instagram an “unholy trinity” that preys on lonely young men and pushes them into acts of violence. The complaint describes several Instagram ads by Daniel Defense promoting the use of assault weapons.

The AR-15 Ramos used in the shooting was the same model used in Call of Duty. Ramos had also ordered several related items of tactical gear that were used in Call of Duty and advertised by Daniel Defense on Instagram. In addition, survivors of the shooting reported that when Ramos shot one of the teachers, he said “good night,” a line used in the game.

The complaint, which was filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, requests both compensatory and punitive damages.

Can Video Game Manufacturers Be Held Liable for Player’s Actions?

The question of whether violence in video games can increase violence in players has been studied for decades without clear answers. Some studies have shown linkages between aggression and violent games, but the same studies have been criticized as flawed.

This is not the first lawsuit attempting to establish tort liability for video game manufacturers over a mass shooting. Following a 1997 school shooting in West Paducah, Kentucky, families of the victims sued the manufacturers of several first-person shooter games. Like the Uvalde lawsuit, that complaint alleged that the video games were defective products due to the harm they could cause, and negligence in marketing the games to minors. That case was dismissed for failing to state a cause of action, and the dismissal was upheld by an appeals court in 2002.

Another lawsuit from 1990 over a player’s suicide was also dismissed on a motion for summary judgment. There have also been a few lawsuits, including a 2010 Hawaii case and a 2023 Arkansas lawsuit, attempting to establish liability where a player has become addicted to playing the game and unable to perform ordinary tasks. These cases are difficult to establish, and courts have invoked First Amendment concerns in declining to allow these suits against video game developers to proceed.

However, the tide may be turning on these cases. A 2022 lawsuit related to a Highland Park, IL shooting also mentioned the link between Call of Duty’s marketing and the shooting, although Activision was not named. Another pair of lawsuits related to the Buffalo, NY grocery store shooting recently survived a motion to dismiss.

The Uvalde lawsuit is slightly more complex than previous claims. In suing Activision, Meta, and Daniel Defense jointly, the plaintiffs are attempting to establish that the combination of targeted advertising by Meta of firearms, directed at a teenager because he plays Call of Duty, escalates the effect of the video game to create a foreseeable risk of harm.

In attempting to establish that Activision is liable for the Uvalde shooting, the biggest hurdle will be the question of proximate cause. Linking the claim against Activision to a claim against a firearms manufacturer, where there is an existing precedent for liability, may help bridge that gap if the case reaches a jury.

More Lawsuits to Watch

This most recent filing adds to a significant list of lawsuits against various defendants related to the May 2022 Uvalde shooting, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed. Uvalde families also filed a federal lawsuit against almost 100 state law enforcement officers over their “botched response” to the shooting. Although more than 400 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, no officers entered the school for over an hour while Ramos continued his massacre.

Josh Koskoff, of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder PC, a Connecticut law firm, represents the plaintiffs. Koskoff also represented the parents of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and secured a $73 million settlement with Remington, another weapons manufacturer.

About the author

Seth Mills, J.D.

Seth Mills, J.D.

Seth Mills, J.D., a career counselor at New York Law School, has a substantial background in legal education and public interest initiatives. Currently serving as the Director of Public Interest & Pro Bono Initiatives and an Adjunct Professor for the Law Office Externship Seminar at New York Law School, Seth focuses on guiding law students in their professional development and legal externship experiences.

Prior to these roles, Seth was a Legal Content Writer for the Expert Institute, contributing to the development and curation of legal content. At Lawline.com, Seth held multiple positions, including Senior Program Attorney and Managing Blog Editor, where he was responsible for creating legal educational materials and managing legal publications.

Seth's legal career began as an Associate Attorney at Sterling Analytics Group, providing a foundation in practical legal work. Additionally, Seth volunteered as a Policy Advocate with the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), demonstrating a commitment to public interest law.

In terms of education, Seth earned a J.D. cum laude from New York Law School, where they were involved in NYLS OUTlaws and the Criminal Law Society. Seth also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from Bard College at Simon's Rock. Their educational and professional experiences reflect a deep commitment to legal education, public interest law, and the mentoring of future legal professionals.

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