Products Liability Law Daily Exploding rifle case may be considered by jury
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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Exploding rifle case may be considered by jury

By David Yucht, J.D.

The rifle manufacturer’s assertion that the explosion was caused by negligent loading will be heard by a jury at a future time.

A federal district judge in Arkansas refused to dismiss a manufacturing defect claim against a rifle manufacturer whose weapon exploded upon firing, injuring its owner. The court struck a late-filed expert affidavit filed by the rifle owner but ruled that most of his expert’s opinion was admissible despite a failure to conduct destructive testing (Hays v. Blackpowder Products, Inc., January 27, 2020, Marshall, D.).

A marksman was injured when the barrel of a Blackpowder Products, Inc. (BPI) muzzleloader rifle, which he had purchased second-hand, exploded upon firing. A witness testified that the marksman had reloaded the rifle after an initial misfire, which the marksman denied. The marksman sued BPI under theories of strict liability and negligent manufacturing, asserting that the steel in the barrel had a manufacturing defect, which caused the explosion. BPI asserted that the accident was caused either by the marksman’s reloading of the misfired rifle or by an air gap caused by improper loading. BPI moved to exclude the consumer’s expert testimony and for summary judgment. The consumer responded with a 30-page expert affidavit responding to BPI’s expert’s opinion that the marksman probably made a loading error, either a double load or an air gap. BPI moved to strike this affidavit as out of time.

Expert testimony. After striking the belatedly filed affidavit of the marksman’s expert, the court ruled that the rest of the expert’s opinion was admissible. The court noted that the expert was qualified. He held a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, a professional engineer's license, and board certification as a forensic engineer. Moreover, he had 20 years of experience in the U.S. Army's Ordinance Corps, and much experience as a range safety officer. Ruling out possible causes to arrive at the most likely one, the expert concluded that there was a hidden metallurgical defect in the barrel's steel which initiated a crack and barrel failure. BPI argued that the expert did not test his opinion with various destructive metallurgical tests. The court noted that BPI’s expert did not conduct this type of testing either and that BPI pointed to no industry standard requiring destructive testing. The lack of a more probing metallurgical analysis may be considered in the future by a jury.

Manufacturing defect. The court denied BPI’s summary judgment motion, finding that the marksman had presented sufficient evidence of his claim. The court noted that the marksman had admissible expert testimony supporting his position. Additionally, there was testimony that the marksman had received the rifle in "immaculate" condition and that it had been fired only a few times. Moreover, there was testimony that the marksman did everything correctly in loading the rifle. Also, BPI's former president acknowledged that, if the marksman did everything as he said, then the barrel should not have exploded.

The case is No. 3:17-cv-325-DPM.

Attorneys: J. Ray Baxter (The Baxter Law Firm) for Brandon Hays; James E. Singer (Bovis, Kyle, Burch & Medlin, LLC) for Blackpowder Products Inc.

Companies: Blackpowder Products Inc.

MainStory: TopStory ExpertEvidenceNews DesignManufacturingNews WeaponsFirearmsNews ArkansasNews

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