Products Liability Law Daily Defective manufacturing claim in gun barrel explosion raises material dispute
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Defective manufacturing claim in gun barrel explosion raises material dispute

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

Strict liability defective manufacturing and breach of implied warranty claims against an ammunition manufacturer filed by a hunter who was injured when his shotgun barrel burst upon firing were permitted to proceed to trial after a federal district court in Utah concluded that the hunter had submitted sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a manufacturing defect caused the hunter’s injuries. As to the hunter’s remaining claims asserting defective product, failure to warn, and breach of express warranty, the court determined that the manufacturer was entitled to judgment because the hunter failed to produce adequate evidence supporting those claims (Barben v. Beretta USA Corp., December 18, 2017, Nuffer, D.).

The plaintiff was an experienced hunter with extensive knowledge of firearms and ammunition. While out on a hunting trip, he was injured when the barrel of his shotgun burst upon firing. An investigation of the incident revealed that the likely cause of the accident was a hull separation that resulted in an obstruction in the barrel of the shotgun. The hunter filed suit against a number of entities, including Federal Cartridge Company, the manufacturer of the ammunition he had been using on the day of the accident. The complaint asserted claims for strict liability (defective manufacturing, design, and warning), negligence, and breach of express and implied warranties. The manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment as to each of the hunter’s claims based on the hunter’s failure to prove the required elements of his causes of action.

Strict liability—defective manufacture/breach of implied warranty. To survive summary judgment on a strict product liability and a breach of implied warranty claim, which "are essentially the same" and require the same analysis, a plaintiff must show that the product at issue was unreasonably dangerous due to a defect or defective condition, that the defect existed at the time the product was sold, and that the defective condition was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Pursuant to this analysis, the court concluded that the hunter had presented sufficient evidence to allow a jury to infer that the manufacturer’s ammunition was unreasonably dangerous due to a manufacturing defect, which ultimately caused his injuries.

The evidence presented by the hunter’s expert witness, based on his expertise and knowledge, created an inference that a manufacturing defect had caused the hull separation that had been the cause of the hunter’s injuries. The court rejected the manufacturer’s focus on the expert’s failure to pinpoint the precise defect. The expert’s opinion, which identified multiple ways in which the manufacturing defect could have occurred and excluded other potential causes of the barrel explosion, was enough to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the defective manufacture and the implied breach of warranty claims. Thus, summary judgment on those issues was not warranted.

Strict liability—defective design. For a defective design claim, in addition to the three-part test for strict liability claims, the hunter was required to show that an alternative, safer design was available at the time the ammunition was sold. The hunter’s failure to put forth a viable alternative design along with the opinion of his expert witness that there was no design defect with the ammunition was fatal to the hunter’s design defect claim. Consequently, the manufacturer’s motion for judgment on this issue was granted as a matter of law.

Strict liability—defective warning. In order to establish a valid defective warning claim, the hunter must show that the failure to provide an adequate warning had been the cause of his injuries. The hunter claimed that his injuries had been caused by a hull separation from a defective shotgun shell that created an obstruction in the barrel of his shotgun. The packaging on the ammunition provided a conspicuous warning of such an event. Upon review of the facts, the court determined that this warning was adequate with respect to sophisticated users like the hunter in this case. Furthermore, the hunter’s own testimony regarding the impracticality of checking the barrel for obstructions after every shot supported the court’s conclusion that a different warning would not have had any impact on the hunter’s behavior. Accordingly, the manufacturer’s motion for judgment on the warning claims was granted.

Negligence. To support his negligence claim, the hunter was required to prove that the ammunition manufacturer owed a duty to the hunter, that the duty was breached, and that the breach was the cause of the hunter’s injuries. Based on the evidence submitted, the court opined that the manufacturer owed no duty of reasonable care to the hunter. As such, it was determined that the hunter failed to meet his burden on this issue and the manufacturer was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Breach of express warranty. Finally, the hunter’s breach of express warranty claim was unsupported by any evidence. Thus, judgment in favor of the manufacturer was appropriate.

The case is No. 1:16-cv-00094-DN.

Attorneys: Dustin Lance (Lance & Andrew PC) for Jacob Sean Barben. Kristen C. Kiburtz (Christensen & Jensen PC) for Federal Cartridge Co. and Rodney R. Parker (Snow Christensen & Martineau) for Beretta USA Corp.

Companies: Federal Cartridge Co.; Beretta USA Corp.

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews CausationNews WeaponsFirearmsNews UtahNews

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