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Dealers on trial: legislative spotlight on the shooting industry.

Just as the utmost care must be taken by manufacturers when designing and building firearms, so it is when a gunsmith repairs a gun. Negligent repair can make gunsmiths a target for hefty court judgments. The following case illustrates some important points for those doing gunsmith work.

A shotgun with a newly made safety was taken on a hunting trip and accidentally discharged, injuring the plaintiff. The main issue in the resulting lawsuit centered on whether the safety mechanism had been operating properly.

The loaded gun was dropped when the hunter stumbled and one barrel discharged causing the injury. (It was established there had been no misuse or negligence in the way the gun was carried or handled, no pulling of the trigger, the safety was not found in the 'fire' position, and no design or manufacturing defect in the weapon was discovered.)

Prior to the discharge, the owner had brought the gun to a gunshop where an employee made a new safety. An expert witness at the trial, an experienced hunter and metal worker, testified it would be extremely unlikely for a gun to fire if engagement surfaces were deep enough and poundage set heavily enough. The gun store argued to no avail that the safety installed by its well-trained, careful, and knowledgeable gunsmith had nothing whatsoever to do with the weapon's firing when it hit the ground.

In awarding substantial damages, a jury decided the safety mechanism had been negligently repaired. The verdict was appealed but the same result was reached.

Guilty By Inference?

The issue of negligence is essentially a question of fact for judge or jury which is, in legal jargon, reasonably inferred from the presented evidence in each case unless that evidence is totally undisputed. In other words, as applied to this case, although there was a possibility the repair work was not faulty, that fact could not be proved with absolute certainty one way or the other and consequently it was for the jury to decide if it indeed was the likely cause of the mishap.

The above case fell into the fairly common 'gray' area, but there are numerous instances where bad repairs were directly tracked to damages. Store owners and employees must keep in mind the law places a great duty of care upon them to prevent injury where reasonably possible, including by improper repair. A failure to do so can be very costly. There is little room for error.

Safety is a paramount objective particularly with firearm accidents increasing. Thoroughness and quality work are absolutely necessary to remain unscathed. Employees doing repairs should not only have the training and expertise to properly do their jobs, they should also be counseled in the potential legal liability for negligence.
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Article Details
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Author:Wenner, Joan
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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