County May Be Liable After Gun Range Mishap

     (CN) – A federal judge advanced claims related to a semiautomatic handgun that began misfiring on its own, spinning “like a pinwheel” and shooting a man in the throat.
     Gary Flynn had visited the Saddle Creek Park Gun Range, which in maintained by Polk County, Fla., on Oct. 3, 2009. Michael and Sherri Thourots visited the range on the same day, carrying their Jennings 9 mm firearm.
     A range master inspected all of the Thourots’ guns, including the Jennings, and then directed them to a stall.
     The Thourots fired a full round with the Jennings without incident, and then reloaded the clip by using a pliers to make the bullets fit better, according to Michael Thourots’ deposition. After putting the gun down on a nearby table, it suddenly started misfiring bullets on its own, spinning “like a … pinwheel,” the deposition states.
     Both Thourots and Flynn were shot. Flynn was shot through the throat and shoulder.
     Flynn sued the couple for negligence and Polk County for negligence and negligent supervision.
     The county moved for summary judgment, claiming that it fulfilled its duty to operate the range safely by “providing rules to keep the range safe and orderly” and “providing a range master to ensure that those rules were followed by all patrons.”
     It said no reasonable person could find that it owed a broader duty.
     The county also argued, that even if it had breached a duty it owed Flynn, this breach did not proximately cause Flynn’s injury.
     It claimed further that there was no reason to suspect that the Jennings handgun could or would spontaneously discharge, and that it had not known of any similar situations to ever happen previously. Polk said it could not have foreseen the incident and has no duty to inspect every gun brought into its gun range.
     U.S. District Judge Virginia Covington said the issue should go to a jury since Flynn can provide testimony that contradicts Polk’s claim.
     The range master allegedly told the Thourots that he knew the gun was dangerous. Michael Thourot testified that, after the shooting, the gun master asked if his gun was a Jennings. When Thourot affirmed, the gun master allegedly said: “I could have told you not to shoot that thing. Those things are notorious for that.”
     Even though the county did not hold themselves out to be an inspector of guns, it could still be found to have owed some duty, according to the ruling.
     “While it is true that courts may impose duties on defendants where the defendants held themselves out to others as undertaking such duties, the inverse, which Polk County advocates, does not necessarily hold,” Covington wrote. “In other words, Polk County is not relieved of a potential duty merely because it never held itself out to the public as undertaking such duty.”

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