TLPJ Joins Suit Against
Smith & Wesson for Defectively Designing and Failing to
Gun Maker’s Negligence
Leads to Eight-Year-Old’s Brain Injury
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.
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."
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.
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