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Guarding against defective safety mechanism suits.

Products having an injury-producing potential naturally have some degree of hazard, and the more serious the "hazard" from a legal standpoint. No one contests the proposition that all firearms may be considered hazardous for obvious reasons and the dangers associated with their use is ever-present.

Greatly increasing the risk of injury (and legal actions) are defectively manufactured or designed safeties. The degree of legal responsibility already significant (and often thought onerous) charged particularly to manufacturers and assemblers shows definite signs of becoming even more so.

With high numbers of largely inexperienced consumers purchasing weapons for home and self-protection (and perhaps lulled into an unreasonable sense of security of a safety's function), it has been predicted alleged malfunctioning safety device lawsuits will increasingly plague sellers.

In cases where the user safety of a particular model of firearm is called into question, the firearms track record can commonly reflect on overall liability. The absence of injuries attributable to a certain part or parts at least helps vouch for a reliable system, which is why corporations have been urged by various legal experts to have procedures in place to ensure all reports of mishaps or incidents are received.

On the other hand, prior accidents or information concerning a possible defect may be utilized for determining whether future safety-related modifications are advisable.

Plaintiffs trying to get to documentation that's unfavorable in order to bolster their liability claims can be quite a problem, as manufacturers know all too well. In the following case, an appeals court allowed access to a company's files, which had a large impact on the outcome of the case.

The injury involved an unaltered shotgun allegedly firing with the safety engaged. A dove hunter was attempting to modify the polychoke after first returning to the blind and placing the gun on "safe." While working with the gun, he grabbed the barrel and the gun discharged, injuring his hand.

The court said he was entitled to company records of other similar failures of the safety mechanism, or more precisely of failures of the overall system, even though there are decisions that hold otherwise, greatly limiting access.


Another sticky problem can be patents held by manufacturers. There are hundreds of patents on file regarding safety products alone, some of them could no doubt prevent accidental discharges in cases where the handler was careless. If a plaintiff's attorney locates them, the information might have the potential to destroy typical manufacturer defenses, including:

* The gun meets the "state of the art" for the product's technology.

* The registered design is unfeasible.

* Lack of awareness of the supposed defect.

A safety is a kind of "guard" like those on other mechanical devices and shouldn't be a substitute for basic design integrity and proper engineering. If something like the safety system defect isn't rectified, a long line of plaintiffs down the road can result.

An absolute reliance on a safety system should not be substituted for proper handling practices, but it is fairly foreseeable that this could happen, especially by persons unfamiliar with firearms.

To those gunmakers who hold certain safety-related patents but who have not yet used them, perhaps now is the time to refine them and put them into practice.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Dealers on Trial: A Spotlight on Litigation in the Shooting Industry
Author:Wenner, Joan
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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