According to one study, from 2005-2010, nearly 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings. Gun manufacturers must be held responsible for this growing trend in the U.S. However, due to the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms, removing a defective firearm from the market is very difficult.
The recent Sandy Hook wrongful death class action lawsuit filed against Remington has the potential to set a precedent in gun maker liability cases.
In 1972, when Congress passed a law establishing the Consumer Product Safety Commission “to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products,” it barred the new agency from regulating firearms in the same manner.
Of course, guns are regulated by state and local laws, and by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. However, none of the regulations cover product safety. That means no federal agency can recall guns that contain safety-related defects. Under this system, only the courts and customers can hold gun manufacturers accountable for their defective products.
Gun Manufacturer Negligence
Most manufacturers have issued recalls in the past. In fact, the gun industry has a long history of safety neglect. For example, in 1986, a federal court upheld a punitive damage of over $1 million against Colt in a case involving the unintentional discharge of a single-action revolver.
There have also been thousands of customer complaints involving Remington rifles spanning decades. There are allegations of at least two dozen related deaths, and over 7 million guns involved. In 1994 a Texas jury awarded $15 million in damages to a hunter who shot himself in the foot when a Remington rifle discharged without the trigger being pulled.
Company documents revealed that Remington was aware the rifle contained a defect that allowed it to fire without the trigger being pulled. Remington refused to recall the gun even though an internal product safety committee determined that their product was defective.
Recently, in response to a lawsuit, Remington agreed to recall millions of triggers in its popular Model 700 hunting rifle.
Common Gun Defects
When deaths and serious gun-related injuries occur due to manufacturing defects, lawyers and gun owners can hold manufacturers responsible for their liability regarding injuries and damages that result. Manufacturers have a duty to ensure the safety of the products they market and distribute.
In addition, they must properly warn consumers of any defect their product may contain and issue timely gun recalls to ensure safety. Some of the most common firearm defects include:
- Trigger safety failure
- Overly-sensitive trigger
- Design flaws
- Defective firearm accessories
- Barrel failure
- Drop Fires
- Defective chamber indicator
- False marketing
Taurus Defective Handguns
A federal judge in Florida gave a preliminary approval to a $38 million class action defective gun settlement that was filed against gun manufacturer Forjas Taurus SA, which sold about 255,000 handguns in the U.S. with multiple alleged defects.
One alleged defect includes drop fires and accidental discharges when the firearm is dropped. Affected gun models include .38 Special revolvers and .357 Magnum revolvers made between 2005 and 2017.
Taurus Inc., a Brazilian-based company, recently paid millions to settle a lawsuit after one of their semi-automatic handguns accidentally killed an 11-year-old boy. The gun owner, the victim’s father, was simply inserting the magazine when the gun fired.
The lawsuit is among several cases filed against Taurus that claim that some of its handguns have defective safety systems that cause them to fire when dropped or even shaken. Lawyers maintain Taurus “designed, tested, developed, manufactured, marketed, advertised, distributed and sold the subject pistol in a defective condition that is unreasonably dangerous to the user.”
According to the lawsuit, Taurus designed and manufactured the gun with a design flaws that allow the gun to discharge without pulling the trigger, even when the safety latch is in the “ON” position.
Lawyers involved in the Taurus case, hired an engineer to conduct drop tests on the pistols. The clearly show the trigger going back when dropped, or firing when simply shaken.
The company stopped production of the nine models that are the subject of the class-action, and recalled nearly 1 million guns. Despite the recalls, plaintiffs claim the company continued to sell what was left in its stock.
The nine models being recalled include the following models:
- PT-111 Millennium
- PT-132 Millennium
- PT-138 Millennium
- PT-140 Millennium
- PT-145 Millennium
- PT-745 Millennium
- PT- 609
- PT-24/7 pistols
FMK Firearms Recall
FMK Firearms has recently recalled handguns with a faulty trigger system that allows the guns to fire when dropped. The company admits that drop fires are possible. They say that “under certain circumstances, the 9C1 Pistols fitted with Fast Action Triggers could discharge when dropped.”
FMK warns that “the pistol could DISCHARGE if dropped with a round in the chamber.” Video evidence of an independent drop test has surfaced showing drop fire and is why the company issued a recall.
Recalled Blackhawk Gun Holsters
Federal Cartridge recalled thousands of its Blackhawk gun holsters, due to accidental discharge risks. Obviously, gun holsters are meant to protect the consumer and put faith in gun safety accessories. When an accident occurs due to defective gun holsters or other gun accessories, a settlement can be sought be injured plaintiffs.
Firearms have been known to be produced with design and mechanical defects, contributing to hundreds of accidental gun deaths and injuries each year. Thousands of consumers have suffered injuries due to unintentional shootings, many of the victims being children.
There are a couple basic design safety features that have the potential to prevent many gun accidents, including:
- A disconnect mechanism that prevents a gun from discharging when the magazine is detached.
- A load indicator that displays when a gun is loaded.
Handgun Safety & Gun Recalls
According to safety studies and statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 500 people are killed in the United States each year due to the accidental discharge of firearms. Thousands of other consumers suffer severe injuries due to gun accidents, some of which involve a faulty or defective firearm.
There have been reports of defective guns firing when dropped—“drop fires”—as well as faulty materials, allegations of gun makers concealing defects, and defective safety features.
No federal agency can recall guns with safety-related defects, so it is up to the courts and customers to hold gun manufacturers accountable for their defective products, and ensure that gun recalls take place before injuries occur in the future.
Gun Liability Lawsuits
In a landmark ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Remington, the gun maker and manufacturer of Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifles, can be sued over how it marketed its rifle, which has been used in deadly mass shootings, namely in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that left 20 children and six educators dead in 2012.
The Sandy Hook lawsuit is a unique challenge to gun companies, which have been protected in years past, but may potentially be held liable for crimes committed with their products.
The ruling is important for consumer safety advocates and brings to the forefront questions over federal gun regulations and corporate accountability. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields gun manufacturers and retailers from liability in lawsuits brought by victims of gun violence.
But the law allows exceptions for marketing practices that violate state or federal laws and instances of negligent entrustment, in which a weapon is carelessly sold to a person posing a high risk of misusing it. The lawsuit targets the manufacturer, Remington, along with a wholesaler and retailer.
This ruling could establish legal precedent, leading to more lawsuits targeting gun manufacturers over their unethical marketing of extremely dangerous products. The wrongful death lawsuit against Remington was filed by a Sandy Hook survivor and relatives of nine others killed in the school shooting.
The class action lawsuit claims companies are negligent in entrusting an untrained civilian with a weapon designed for maximizing fatalities on a battlefield. Lawyers say the company advertising, full of combat dominance and hyper-masculinity, resonates with disturbed young men.
The Sandy Hook lawsuit is critical in directly challenging gun companies who have long been shielded from product liability litigation when their weapons are used in crimes. The ruling creates a potential opening in bringing wrongful death claims against companies like Remington who manufacture deadly weapons and market them to the general public.
The battle between gun control advocates and the powerful gun lobby is not likely to diminish any time soon, though further product liability litigation has the potential to change how corporate gun manufacturers make their products available to the consumer. Gun manufacturers may be held legally responsible when their products are used in certain crimes, as argued by attorneys in the Sandy Hook lawsuit.
Gun Safety Standards
Gun design and gun safety standards for firearms are meant to ensure a gun’s structural integrity and prevent it from misfiring or malfunctioning. Design and safety tests should be conducted by a state agency or independent lab before a gun can be manufactured or sold. Basic gun testing will include firing tests, drop tests, and melting point tests.
- Firing tests confirm that a gun is structurally sound and will not malfunction after repeated firing.
- Drop tests confirm that a gun does not fire when it is dropped. Drop fire defects have led to several handgun recalls.
- Melting point tests confirm that guns are made with metals with melting points above the heat generated by the ballistic forces when the gun is fired.
Defective Handguns Lawsuits
In 2013, the gun maker, Taurus, removed nine gun models from the market which were alleged to be defective. The defects included a faulty trigger safety, which is intended to prevent the rearward movement of the trigger; a manual safety lever, which should block the firing mechanism; and a firing pin block, meant to keep the firing pin from striking the round’s primer unless the trigger is pulled all the way back into the firing position. Taurus has also been the target of accidental discharge lawsuits.
A recent lawsuit in Montana alleged that Remington Arms Company sold millions of bolt-action rifles with a defect that has been linked to wrongful deaths. Allegations from attorneys say Remington concealed a design defect dating back to 2010 that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled. The company reached a settlement by December 2014, which covered around 7.5 million guns, and Remington agreed to replace the triggers, free of charge. The agreement to replace millions of allegedly defective triggers was placed on hold pending an appeal.
Gun owners have reported that the barrel of Savage Arms muzzleloader guns have exploded, burst, split or cracked. Plaintiffs are seeking damages for sustained injuries and allege the company failed to warn customers about the defect. Lawyers have claimed the company recklessly kept the muzzleloaders on the market even when there were reports of consumers injuring hands, ears and faces. One expert involved in the case examined a Savage Arms weapon and said the barrel of that gun was “metallurgically defective.”
In 2017, Ruger found that some Mark IV pistols have the potential to discharge unintentionally if the safety is not utilized correctly. According to Ruger, if the trigger is pulled while the safety lever is midway between the “safe” and “fire” positions the pistol may not fire. If the trigger is released and the safety lever is then moved from the mid-position to the “fire” position, the pistol may fire unintentionally.