A divided Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has determined under Louisiana products liability law that a rifle manufacturer could not have reasonably anticipated that someone would fire its rifle when it was missing a bolt-assembly pin. Matthews v. Remington Arms Co., Inc., No. 09-31217 (5th Cir., decided May 18, 2011). Accordingly, the court affirmed the lower court’s determination after a bench trial that the manufacturer was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, including the loss of an eye from the rifle’s backward explosion during target shooting.
The majority ruled that the manufacturer could not reasonably anticipate that someone would disassemble the rifle and reassemble it without the pin; therefore, the manufacturer could not anticipate that someone would fire its rifle without the pin.
While the presence of the pin was contested at trial, the district court concluded that it was missing when the plaintiff fired the rifle. No evidence established who might have been responsible for the pin’s removal. It was clear, however, that the rifle had been successfully fired several times with the pin in place before the injury occurred.
The dissenting judge opined that the majority misapplied Louisiana law by focusing on whether a third person’s omission of the bolt-assembly pin made the rifle more dangerous than Remington subjectively expected. According to the dissent, “This model of Remington rifle has a dangerous characteristic that Remington did not warn users about either in the owners’ manual or on the rifle itself, viz., when the pin holding its two-piece bolt assembly together is missing or defective, the rifle can explode in the face of a shooter, although its bolt assembly may appear to be working properly [without the pin] when a user inserts a rifle shell and prepares to pull the trigger.”