Could a gun accident give rise to product liability?

Gun control has been a charged political subject of late, addressed not only by candidates in the presidential race, but also in response to the tragedy of mass shootings. One of the talking points has involved an aspect of product liability law: whether gun manufacturers should have absolute immunity.

As background, there’s already precedent that gun makers can be held accountable under a product liability claim. A recent example involved the handgun manufacturer Taurus. The class action plaintiffs alleged that a certain handgun model was defective, firing if accidentally dropped.

Taurus recently agreed to a $30 million settlement, in addition to $9 million in attorneys’ fees. Although that amount is hefty, the proposed settlement does not include any admission of a product defect by Taurus. The federal court has scheduled an upcoming hearing in mid-July and will rule on whether it approves the proposed settlement.

The concept of absolute immunity, as used in recent debates, may refer to the statutes that some states have passed in response to frivolous product liability lawsuits. Generally speaking, those laws seek to prevent such lawsuits brought against the manufacturers of firearms that were properly functioning.

What makes a product liability claim frivolous? If a product was designed properly and it functions safely and according to its advertised purpose, it may well be that any injuries were attributable to another cause. In the case of guns, an owner might have forgotten to keep the safety on, possibly giving way to a premises liability claim or another theory or negligence against the owner of the gun. As a law firm that has helped many clients injured by a potentially defective or dangerous product, we have the experience to examine alternative theories of liability and pursue the best strategy.

Source: Washington Post, “The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: Facts and policy,” David Kopel, May 24, 2016

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