11th Circuit Rules That Defective Gun Design Killed Man

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 19, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eleventh Circuit reversed a lower court judgment that granted a motion to exclude expert testimony in a gun malfunction case. The expert's testimony would have explained how a gun malfunctioned and shot its owner through his chest.

This case is a bit of a treat as lawyers do not often see a lower district court's opinion so completely disregarded by the appeals court.

What Shot Mr. Seamon?

Mr. Kenneth Seamon was hunting late in 2011 and was sitting in his tree stand somewhere in Alabama. His wife attempted to contact him via text several times but failed. His family eventually found him sitting dead in his tree stand with a gunshot wound to the chest. The gun was found on the ground with ropes tied to its scope and safety. The totality of the evidence indicated that the gun discharged as Seamon was pulling up his gun from the ground.

His wife and estate sued the gun company (Remington) under a theory of product liability. A reasonable design of the gun would have precluded its discharged under these facts. Widow Ms. Seamon and Remington moved for summary judgment. Remington also moved to exclude Seamon's expert testimony that the gun discharged because of a defective trigger. The court granted Remington's request and entered a judgment against Seamon. The court also denied Seamon's motion to reconsider.

Circuit's Review: Abuse of Discretion

As with any circuit opinion, the court began with its standard of review, citing Daubert and Kumho Tire; and also reviewed the lower court's decision to exclude the plaintiff's expert opinion for abuse of discretion.

The district court excluded the plaintiff's expert testimony because it concluded that it was "speculative and unreliable." The circuit's own analysis of the expert's testimony actually revealed that the proffered testimony was actually quite reasonable and that, on the whole, the evidence actually supported that no one pulled the trigger.

Moreover, the circuit took the view that the defendant's contention of Mr. Seamon pulling the trigger was altogether inconsistent with Powell's now "reasonable" jar-off theory that the gun had discharged because of some jarring external force. Instead, the circuit said, the district court actually mischaracterized the expert's opinion and denied its inclusion. For these reasons, reversal of the motion to exclude and Remington's summary judgment action appeared appropriate.

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