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'The Good Wife': Good Law? - Season 6, Episode 15

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 16, 2015 3:33 PM

For this week's episode of "The Good Wife," the show once again turned to real life for inspiration. Diane and Finn, representing a victim of a misfired gun, sued the designer of the 3-D printed gun, instead of the actual shooter of the gun.

Here's what you need to know from last night's episode, entitled "Open Source":

The Good Wife: Good Law?

Season 6, Episode 15
"Open Source"

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  • Season 6, Episode 16 (Airs 3/22/15)

Episode Recap (Spoiler Alert!):

In this episode, Alicia and Frank struggle with their promise not to employ smear tactics (although this doesn't stop Alicia from lying to get endorsements); neither candidate wants to smear each other in this campaign, but both are happy to throw Alicia's husband Peter under the bus, attacking his racist hiring practices.

While all that campaign drama is fun, the legal meat of this episode really focuses on Diane and Finn's lawsuit against a designer of a 3-D printed gun.

Legal Roots:

The show started out with Chris Fife, the defendant, designing a gun for 3-D printing, which he then posts online. A hapless user downloaded the design, printed the gun, and giddily went to the shooting range to test out his new toy. Lo and behold, the gun misfired, sending shrapnel into the spine of an unlucky bystander.

Legal Fiction:

Diane and Finn, representing the paralyzed victim, decided to sue Chris, the designer, rather than the actual shooter of the gun. Usually, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers from lawsuits by victims of gun violence. But is Chris really a gun manufacturer? If the court were to find that this law applied, Diane and Finn would not have any suit at all.

Legal Fact:

During the trial, Diane's expert witness and husband, Kurt McVeigh, discovered that the 3-D printer used to print the gun may have malfunctioned, causing the gun to misfire. Diane quickly added the printer manufacturer to the lawsuit, suing both the manufacturer and Chris.

Often in the original complaint, the plaintiff sues a named defendant and unnamed "Doe Defendants." By doing this, the plaintiff is asserting that parties other than the defendant, the names of whom they don't know yet, might also be responsible for damages. This allows the plaintiff to later amend the complaint to add extra defendants whom they didn't know about at the time of the original complaint.

Legal Babble:

Joint and Several Liability: The principle of joint and several liability applies when there are more than one defendant. Essentially, the plaintiff is arguing that since more than one party caused damages to the plaintiff, each party should be independently liable for the entire amount of damages, regardless of the proportion of fault.

For example: Anna hit Bob with her car because she got drunk after drinking at a bar. The jury finds that Anna was 80 percent at fault, and the bar was 20 percent at fault. Normally, Anna would have to pay for 80 percent of the damages, and the bar would pay 20 percent. However, Anna is flat broke and doesn't have any money. Under joint and several liability, the bar would then have to pay 100 percent of the damages, despite being only 20 percent at fault.

The Verdict:

While the 3-D gun case ultimately settled for $5 million, it would have been more interesting to see whether a product designer and manufacturer should be held liable for the actions of the product's user. Similarly, if a self-driving car crashes, would the car owner be liable or the car manufacturer? Maybe "The Good Wife" producers should consider exploring that in another episode.

What did you think of this week's episode of "The Good Wife"? Is the show guilty of making any legal mistakes? Check back here for more legal recaps of "The Good Wife," and send us a tweet at @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #TheGoodWife.

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