Products Liability and Wrongful Death Claim Against Gun Manufacturer Thrown Out by Appeals Court


320px-P80_pistole.jpgA wrongful death suit against a gun owner and the gun’s manufacturer has demonstrated the difficulty of pursuing a products liability claim involving a firearm. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment for the defendants in Ryan v. Hughes-Ortiz, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 90 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012), finding that federal statutes bar recovery under the facts and circumstances of the case. The appeals court based its decision on the conduct of the decedent more than any condition of the gun.

Thomas Hughes owned a Glock 9mm Model 17 pistol, which he kept, along with other firearms, in a chest in a locked second-floor bedroom. Hughes testified that he helped Charles Milot reestablish himself after Milot’s release from an eighteen-month prison stay in November 2001. This included paying Milot for odd jobs at his home. Milot’s sister testified that Milot showed her two handguns at a family event in February 2002, which he said he got from Hughes’ house using a key he found. She said Milot agreed to return the guns to where he found them.

On February 25, 2002, Hughes left Milot at his house with instructions for repairs. When he returned, he found Milot’s body in the front doorway, where he was pronounced dead. Police concluded that, while Milot was attempting to return the pistol to its plastic case in the upstairs bedroom, the gun fired, striking Milot in the leg and hitting his femoral artery. Milot made it downstairs and was able to use the telephone before collapsing.