BY TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER / Published: July 19, 2016

The father of a man who was fatally shot outside a Susquehanna County home can proceed with a lawsuit against the gun shop owned by the killer’s father, a Lackawanna County judge ruled Monday.

Judge Terrence Nealon said George Rogers presented sufficient evidence to support his claims that Hayden Thomas, owner of the Outdoorsman gun shop, knew his son, Lloyd Thomas, was mentally unstable and should have taken stronger steps to ensure he did not have access to guns or ammunition.

Police said Lloyd Thomas, then 45, shot Mr. Rogers’ son, Joshua Rogers, and his friend, Gilberto Alvarez, after discovering them outside Hayden Thomas’ home and adjacent gun shop on Pine Ayre Drive in Great Bend Twp on Feb. 11, 2012. The men had gone to the home to investigate if someone there was responsible for firing shots that struck their vehicle earlier in the day.

Lloyd Thomas claimed self defense. A jury convicted him in January 2014 of two counts of voluntary manslaughter. He later was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

George Rogers filed a lawsuit in 2012, against Lloyd Thomas, Hayden Thomas and the Outdoorsman. The suit sought to hold Hayden Thomas and the gun shop partly responsible for the deaths based on the as yet unsubstantiated claim that Lloyd Thomas obtained the guns and ammunition used in the killings from the shop.

Michael Pisanchyn, attorney for the Rogers family, also contends Hayden Thomas had a duty to protect the public based on testimony of two neighbors, who said they warned him in the weeks prior to the shooting that Lloyd Thomas was acting strangely. A state police trooper also advised him of the concerns and provided him information on how to involuntarily commit his son to a mental hospital.

Gary Weber, attorney for Hayden Thomas and the Outdoorsman, sought to dismiss his clients from the lawsuit, arguing Hayden Thomas had no duty to control his son’s actions. In a 14-page ruling, Judge Nealon denied the motion. The judge noted that a factual dispute remains over whether Lloyd Thomas obtained the guns and ammunition from the gun shop. At this point of the litigation, a “reasonable inference” can be made that he did, therefore that issue must be presented to a jury.

If a jury confirms the gun and ammunition came from the shop, it then would have to consider the arguments that Hayden Thomas had a duty to prevent his son from accessing it, given the warnings he received about his mental health, the judge said.

Mr. Pisanchyn said he is pleased the judge allowed the case to proceed to a jury.

“The court saw it the right way. I hope 12 jurors in the community say it’s unacceptable to shoot two people when it’s unjustified,” Mr. Pisanchyn said.

Mr. Weber said he is also pleased by the ruling because the judge dismissed multiple other theories of liability Mr. Pisanchyn posed.

“The judge struck most of the issues,” Mr. Weber said. “The plaintiff still has the burden to prove the remaining claims.”

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