This was the last thing Vista Outdoors, owners of brands like Savage Arms and Federal Premium Ammunition, needed right about now. It seems that some of the guns the company made are having some issues. Serious issues.
It was the opening day of deer hunting season, and Ronald Hansen says he loaded his rifle the same way he had countless times before, aimed at a target and fired a shot.
This time, the gun barrel exploded, knocking the farmer from Hampton, Iowa, backward, severely damaging his right hand and ear and burning his face.
Unknown to Hansen, the manufacturer of the rifle that injured him in 2014 had received other complaints of explosions and injuries over the prior decade. Customers repeatedly reported that the barrel of the stainless steel 10 ML-II muzzleloader exploded, burst, split or cracked, according to thousands of court documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Lawyers for the company, Westfield, Massachusetts-based Savage Arms, were expected to appear Wednesday in federal court in Iowa to defend against a lawsuit filed by Hansen. He is seeking damages for his injuries, alleging the company failed to warn customers about the defect.
It’s one of several lawsuits that have claimed the company recklessly kept the muzzleloaders on the market even as they kept occasionally mangling hands, damaging hearing and burning faces. At least three have been settled on a confidential basis since last year.
The gun in question was discontinued in 2010, but by then the damage was done. There’s been no recall notice on these weapons, and now people are getting hurt.
While gun companies do enjoy a certain level of protection from lawsuits due to the Protection of Lawful Commerce of Arms Act, that law does absolutely nothing here. In fact, the law explicitly states it doesn’t prevent manufacturers from being sued in cases dealing with faulty products or negligence by the manufacturer.
That means if these allegations are true, Savage Arms is going to have to pay out some serious cash as well as take a significant PR hit. In this day and age, the market for guns is too saturated for people to feel the need to shrug and move on. After all, many people will look at the history and ask why should they buy this gun from a company with such a black mark against them when there are a dozen other firearms at a similar price point from gun makers who didn’t sell exploding muzzleloaders?
I can’t say that I’d blame them.
However, Savage Arms maintains it’s not to blame for the mishap. Instead, they claim it was the result of operator error due to the plaintiffs having created too much pressure within the firearms, thus causing the explosion.
To be sure, that can happen with even the finest muzzleloaders if you’re not careful.
From here, it’s virtually impossible to tell for certain as to whether or not Savage Arms is responsible or not, and it’s not our place. That’s what the courts are for, and this is a case many of us will be keeping an eye on this one.