Federal Judge Dismisses Personal Injury Case Against Massachusetts Gun Maker

U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell recently held that Massachusetts gun maker Smith & Wesson was not liable for the accidental discharge of a pistol that caused a Tennessee man to lose his finger.

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Judge Campbell dismissed the case on September 16, based on an order from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. The plaintiffs Randy and Vicki McNeal sued Smith & Wesson for $75,000 this winter. The complaint claims McNeal was shot in the finger inside a gun store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — a small city near Nashville. The plaintiffs alleged that the Bodyguard .380 pistol had a loose screw that inhibited the slide from locking correctly.

Gun enthusiasts claim that the .380 pistol is the weapon of choice for people who want security but don’t fit the profile of the typical gun owner, such as urbanites, women, and first-time buyers who are more concerned with easy-access self defense than high performance. The issue is that firearms experts indicate that .380s are difficult to use. Kevin Michalowski of Concealed Carry magazine said:  “Based on size, people will grab a .380. First time buyers see a soft shooter. I think that’s a little bit of a mistake.”

McNeal allegedly dropped his .380 Smith & Wesson when he attempted to lock the slide. The loose screw interfered with the locking mechanism, and the gun went off when he tried to catch it. The accident required McNeal’s left pinky finger to be amputated.

Judge Campbell’s opinion cited precedent stating that an injury alone does not prove a product is defective. A single product malfunction does not automatically establish liability. A company, the court reasoned, is not required to make a product fully “accident proof.”

The question the court must ask is not whether the product caused the injury but instead whether the injury was caused by a design defect in the product. McNeal’s argument failed, the court reasoned, since the loose screw (the alleged defect) did not cause McNeal to drop the firearm. Thus, the alleged defect cannot be said to have proximately caused the discharge.

Smith & Wesson introduced the Bodyguard .380 in 2013, and it quickly became one of the company’s most popular models. Experts, however, are concerned that these are most often purchased by first-time gun buyers. A blogger for the popular online firearms retailer Lucky Gunner stated that “the smaller a handgun is, the more difficult it is to shoot.” The National Rifle Association’s American Rifleman magazine echoed that sentiment, warning that “pocket pistols have certain limitations that new or inexperienced handgunners need to be aware of before they commit to buying one.”

Michaelowski recommends comprehensive self-defense training before anyone uses a .380. Most states, however, do not require any live fire experience to own a .380, let alone self-defense training.

McNeal’s case is not the only lawsuit alleging defects in the Bodyguard .380. Jeffrey Pfitzer, a Missouri resident, sued Smith & Wesson in 2013 after his .380 exploded, resulting in his concussion and permanent facial scarring. Like McNeal’s case, however, Pfitzer’s case was dismissed when a judge ruled that the company’s claims about the gun’s quality did not constitute a warranty.

If you have been harmed by a faulty product, you may need the assistance of a product liability lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts product liability attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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