New Mexico Supreme Court Dismisses Complaint Against Gun Manufacturer For Malfunctioning Lock On A Rifle Used In A Crime

When you’ve been injured in a New Mexico car accident, one easily thinks of the other driver as the liable party. However sometimes car accidents are caused by a defective car or car component. Manufacturers may be held accountable under the legal theory of strict liability if the product causes harm due to an unreasonable risk of injury from its condition or use. The risk of harm becomes unacceptable under the law, if a reasonable person with full knowledge of risk finds it unacceptable. Strict liability applies to all manufacturers of all products, including children’s toys, power tools, or devices used for medical procedures.

A New Mexico Supreme Court case, Sabrano v. Savage Arms, Inc., recently focused on whether or not a gun manufacturer can be held liable for the injuries and ultimate death of a woman who was killed by a man using a rifle that was manufactured and paired with a lock. The perpetrator used a key not designated for unlocking to unlock the lock and use the rifle. The gun manufacturer moved to dismiss at the trial court level, alleging that it was immune from the strict liability suit under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). The PLCAA provides gun manufacturers a shield from suit when the harm is solely caused by the criminal or unlawful use of firearm products by others when the product is functioned as designed as intended. (See 15 U.S.C., Sec. 7901 (b)(1)).

The deceased’s estate avoided dismissal at the trial court by pointing to the fact it was the lock, an accessory made by a gun manufacturer, that malfunctioned – not the rifle itself. The estate argued that this detail removed the shield of the PLCAA. The Supreme Court, assessing the language and intent of the statute, disagreed. The Court ultimately determined that because the death ultimately resulted from the action of a third party using the rifle for criminal and unlawful use, the PLCAA remained intact for the gun manufacturer. While the Court found that an exception did not exist for the gun accessory, the Court did allow the claim against the lock distributor to stand. The Court also found that the PLCAA’s exception for breach of contract or warranty did not apply to the lock.

A concurring opinion written by one of the justices went even further than the majority by saying the analysis did not need to include an assessment of the PLCAA. The concurrence opined that the gun manufacturer was shielded from liability due to a lack of any duty toward the deceased. In New Mexico personal injury cases, four things must be shown: that the defendant owed a duty to the injured, that they failed to uphold that duty, that the failure resulted in injury, and the costs incurred by the injury. The justice argued that there was no way the gun manufacturer would have been able to foresee the theft of the gun, unlocking the lock, loading the gun, breaking-in, and ultimately killing an innocent person. The justice cited several New Mexico cases that declined to hold gun manufactures accountable for criminal acts based on the lack of legal duty to the injured.

The Albuquerque personal injury attorneys of the Parnall Law Firm, understand that you need aggressive representation to recover the damages you require to pay medical bills and make up for lost wages. For a free, confidential consultation call our office today.