Judge Finds Exploding Rifle Proof Enough

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – A rifle that exploded in the face of the person who shot it is proof enough of potential product liability, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge James Mahan ruled Monday that a Nevada man can continue his product liability complaint against an ammunition supplier but dismissed his negligence claim.
     Andrew Smith says he was shooting his Bushmaster AR-15 rifle in the desert near Sloan, Nev., on April 7, 2012, when it exploded and injured him.
     Smith says he was shooing Wolf brand .223 ammunition when his rifle exploded in his face and caused “severe physical and emotional injuries.”
     He filed a product liability and negligence complaint against Bushmaster Firearms and its parent company, Remington Arms, and named as co-defendants Sporting Supplies International, SSI Manufacturing Technologies and Wolf Performance Ammunition.
     Sporting Supplies is a U.S. company that distributes Russian-made ammunition under the Wolf Performance Ammunition brand. The ammunition is made at the historic Tula arsenal in Russia, which began making arms under Peter the Great, in the early 1700s.
     Sporting Supplies in October 2014 filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint against it.
     Sporting Supplies claimed Smith cannot establish a product defect, a “necessary element” of the complaint. It claims that Smith’s “entire case is based on mere speculation.”
     Smith “has not provided any evidence, expert or otherwise, that a manufacturing defect existed in the ammunition or that such a defect more likely than not caused the incident,” Sporting Supplies says in its motion.
     It claims that “multiple possible causes of the incident have been identified,” including possible user error by Smith.
     But Judge Mahan wrote that the problem with the arguments made by Sporting Supplies and Smith is that each “conflate the claims of negligence and strict liability.”
     “Negligence and strict liability are not mutually exclusive because they differ in focus,” Mahan wrote. “Negligence focuses on the conduct of the manufacturer; strict liability focuses on the product and the consumer’s expectation.”
     For Smith to prevail with his negligence claim, he must establish that Sporting Supplies owed him a duty of care and breached that duty, which caused his injuries and damages, Mahan wrote.
     But the judge found that Smith “fails to set forth any evidence to support his claim that the firearm or the ammunition that he used were negligently manufactured” and “presents no evidence that the manufacturers or sellers failed to use reasonable care to eliminate foreseeable dangers.”
     But Smith said, “he had the firearm since approximately 2002 and had fired at least 2,000 rounds or more through the subject rifle prior to the incident,” Mahan wrote.
     Smith also said that “on the day of the incident, he had fired 19 rounds with no malfunction or mechanical problems before the explosion occurred,” Mahan said.
     Smith did not show that Sporting Supplies had “exclusive control over the ammunition or firearm” and provided no evidence that showed negligence “in the design, manufacturing, or distribution process,” according to the ruling.
     Smith said he did not need an expert to prove his product liability claim “because the firearm ‘clearly failed to perform in a manner reasonably expected,'” Mahan wrote in his order granting partial summary judgment.
     Sporting Supplies claimed Smith has no proof of a product defect, but the firearm’s explosion and injuries to Smith indicate some type of defect did exist, Mahan wrote.
     “A firearm that explodes or ammunition that causes a firearm to explode in the face of its user does not operate in the manner reasonably expected,” Mahan found.
     Sporting Supplies “has not provided evidence to negate plaintiff’s assertion that the explosion occurred because of a product defect in either the firearm or the ammunition,” Mahan wrote.
     He granted Sporting Supplies’ motion for summary judgment on Smith’s negligence claim but denied the motion regarding product liability.
     Officials for Sporting Supplies could not be reached for comment.
     Sporting Supplies’ attorney Darrell D. Dennis with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

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