Fleet Farm faces wrongful death suit
Store denies liability in teen’s suicide
By Robert Cloud
Ryan Ames, a 16-year-old Weyauwega-Fremont High School junior, took his life on Dec. 5, 2020.
He stole the handgun and ammunition he used to commit suicide from storage space at the Fleet Farm in Waupaca, where he worked as a clerk.
His parents, Bruce and Bambi Ames, who currently live in Maine, filed a wrongful death suit against Fleet Farm in December 2022.
Their civil complaint argues that Ames “was given complete, unfettered, and unsupervised access to the firearm storage area.”
Ames was suffering from mental health issues and had previously attempted to harm himself, the complaint says.
He also told co-workers that he intended to hurt or kill himself, but they did not share this with managers.
On the night of his death, Ames entered the firearm storage area several times.
At the end of his shift, Ames entered the firearm storage area again, took a handgun and ammunition, hid them in his pants and left the store.
Fleet Farm was not aware of the missing gun until the next day when the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office informed them of what had happened.
In their complaint, Ames’ parents accuse Fleet Farm of “negligence and carelessness, including but not limited to giving teenage employees unfettered access to firearms and ammunition, failing to secure firearms and ammunition, failing to monitor the security cameras that observed the firearm storage in the subject Fleet Farm store and failing to address Ryan Ames’ intention to commit self-inflicted violence and/or to eliminate his access to firearms and ammunition when Fleet Farm learned via its employees … that Ryan Ames intended to hurt or kill himself.”
Fleet Farm’s reply brief
Fleet Farm filed a brief responding to the Ames’ suit on May 1.
The company argues that its alleged negligence falls under Wisconsin’s superseding cause doctrine, which means the negligence is too remote from the injury to impose liability and that suicide is considered a superseding cause.
“Fleet Farm did not supply Ryan with the handgun. The Complaint quite clearly alleges that Ryan stole the firearm. The Defendants’ purported negligence in failing to prevent his theft simply does not equate with supplying the gun with knowledge that the decedent will use it to take his life,” according to the reply brief.
“As a matter of policy, Wisconsin draws a bright line for nonliability in third-party wrongful death claims when a defendant is allegedly negligent in causing the Plaintiff’s decedent’s suicide,” Fleet Farm argues.
In the 1960 case Bogust v. Iverson, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that the director of student personnel services at Stout State College was not liable for the suicide of a student whose counseling sessions he had terminated just over a month before her death.
Quoting the Bogust decision, Fleet Farm notes that the act of suicide “is a new and independent agency which does not come within and complete a line of causation from the wrongful act to the death.”
The case is scheduled for a motion hearing before Waupaca County Circuit Court Judge Troy Nielsen on Friday, May 12.