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Halliday v. Sturn, Ruger & Co

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff’s son, Jordan Garris, was killed by a handgun, which was manufactured by Sturn, Ruger & Co. (Defendant). Plaintiff sued Defendant for products liability.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Generally, gun makers are only liable when their products malfunction. However, there is a limited category of handguns, which clearly are not sanctioned as a matter of public policy.

    Facts. Clifton Garris (Plaintiff) purchased a Ruger P89 semi-automatic pistol, which was designed and manufactured by Defendant. Plaintiff declined to participate in the free safety course. The gun came with a pamphlet entitled “Youth Handgun Safety Act Notice,” a lock box in which to store the gun and the magazine, and a padlock for the box. Plaintiff did not store either the gun or the magazine in the lock box but rather placed the gun under his mattress and kept the loaded magazine on a bookshelf. Plaintiff’s son, a three-year-old, found the handgun and magazine. He knew how to load the magazine into the gun from watching television. Jordan shot and killed himself. Plaintiff sued Defendant alleging both a design defect in the gun and inadequate warnings. The circuit court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Is Defendant liable to Plaintiff for products liability for the manufacturing of a gun, which killed Plaintiff’s son?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * Generally, gun makers are only liable when their products malfunction, but there is a limited category of handguns which clearly are not sanctioned as a matter of public policy.
    * Guns characterized by short barrels, low weight, easy concealability, cheap quality, inaccuracy, and unreliability renders them particularly attractive for criminal use but virtually useless for any legitimate purpose. These types of guns are in a separate category and their use for criminal purposes is entirely foreseeable by their manufacturers and marketers.
    * In this case, the gun was not the type of gun that fit into the exception. It was a lawful weapon and was lawfully sold. The gun did not malfunction in any way.
    * What caused this tragedy was the carelessness of Plaintiff, who left the weapon and the magazine in places where the child was able to find them, in contravention not only of common sense but also of multiple warnings given to him at the time of purchase.

    Discussion. Plaintiff did not follow common sense or any of the warnings associated with gun ownership. There is no design defect, because the gun operated exactly as designed. The death of Plaintiff’s son was not a “reasonably foreseeable use,” because the gun is not a type of gun that is normally associated with criminal activity.


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