News header

TLPJ Joins Suit Against Smith & Wesson for Defectively Designing and Failing to Child-Proof Gun

Gun Maker’s Negligence Leads to Eight-Year-Old’s Brain Injury

Photo of Royce Ryan holding a baseball glove A teenager accidentally shot Royce Ryan with a semi- automatic pistol that lacked critical safety features. Photo courtesy of the Ryan family.

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice joined as co-counsel on August 19, 2002, in a products liability suit against Smith & Wesson for defectively designing and failing to child-proof a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol. Ryan v. Koehler International, Inc., now pending in state court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seeks damages for an eight-year-old boy accidentally shot in the face by another boy playing with a gun he thought was unloaded. The suit charges that the shooting would never have taken place if the gun – a Smith & Wesson Model 915 – was properly designed.

"We believe that those who manufacture, distribute, and sell guns have as much duty to act responsibly as those who manufacture, distribute, and sell other dangerous products," said TLPJ Executive Director Arthur H. Bryant. "If Smith & Wesson had acted responsibly here, Royce Ryan would not have suffered this tragic injury."

The case stems from the accidental shooting of eight-year-old Royce Ryan. On April 15, 1998, Royce was playing with friends in Wichita, Kansas. A fifteen-year-old, Jared McMunn, asked Royce and his friends if they wanted to see a gun and then took them to see a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol in his parents’ dresser. Jared thought the gun was unloaded and, while showing it to the other kids, squeezed the trigger. But there was one bullet in the chamber. The gun fired and the bullet struck Royce just below his left eye, exiting the back of his head. Royce survived, but was critically wounded and suffered significant brain damage.

Photo of Smith and Wesson Model 915 semi-automatic pistol Smith & Wesson Model 915

On May 22, 2000, Royce and his mother filed suit in Pennsylvania state court against Smith & Wesson, alleging that the Model 915 was defective in three ways. First, the gun had a defective magazine disconnect safety, a device that is supposed to prevent a gun from firing when the magazine is removed. The Model 915's magazine disconnect safety sometimes allowed the gun to be fired even when the magazine was removed. Second, the gun lacked a "loaded chamber indicator," a simple device that shows whether a gun is unloaded or there is a bullet in the chamber. Third, the gun was not child-proofed in any way, despite numerous inexpensive designs and technologies readily available for that purpose.

"This is a shooting that should never taken place and a lawsuit that should never have been necessary," said co-lead counsel Robert L. Pottroff of Myers, Pottroff & Ball in Manhattan, Kansas. "We intend to hold Smith & Wesson accountable for its failure to child-proof this semi-automatic weapon and, hopefully, help spur the gun industry to take appropriate steps to prevent the thousands of wholly unintended and readily avoidable shootings and deaths that occur each year."

Thousands of children in America are killed or injured each year in unintentional shootings. According to a 1991 U.S. General Accounting Office report, about one in every three accidental shooting deaths in the U.S. could be prevented by just two simple kinds of safety devices – loaded chamber indicators and child-proof gun safeties. Despite that fact, most gun manufacturers have steadfastly refused to incorporate these safety devices into their products.

"Smith & Wesson knew that accidental shootings like this were taking place throughout America, but it failed to take the most basic, inexpensive steps possible to prevent them," said co-lead counsel Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky in Philadelphia. "That’s not acceptable."

Plaintiffs’ co-counsel in Ryan also include TLPJ Staff Attorney Victoria W. Ni, Jay Heidrick of Myers, Pottroff & Ball, and Stephen W. Brown of Megaffin, Brown & Lynch in Pratt, Kansas.