TACOMA, WA -- A federal District Court jury last week ruled in favor of Remington Arms Co. Inc. in a product liability lawsuit filed by a Port Angeles man.
Thomas D. Hull Jr., 48, had contended he was injured by a defective rifle that discharged inside his truck.
Hull was wounded at about 5:30 p.m. Oct. 25, 2009, by a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle being unloaded by his hunting partner, Joseph Sotomayor, then 45, also of Port Angeles, according to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.
Hull was shot in the upper right thigh, Hull said Thursday.
Remington’s lawyers said the incident was caused by Sotomayor’s negligence.
Hull and Sotomayor had finished hunting and were off Palo Alto Road when the incident occurred, the Sheriff’s Department said.
The friends had been hunting deer, according to court documents.
The bullet went through a truck’s front passenger seat, then through the center console and the drive
r’s seat before breaking into fragments and hitting Hull, according to the Sheriff’s Office and court documents.
Hull was standing by the open driver’s side door when he was shot, according to court documents.
On April 19, after a six-day trial in Western Washington District Court in Tacoma, the eight-pers
on jury was asked on a special verdict form: “Did [Remington] supply a product that was not reasonably safe as designed at the time the product left its control?”
It took the jury about one hour to answer in Remington’s favor.
“In all of the testimony, I hadn’t seen where they proved the gun was defective,” juror Penny Bumpus of Poulsbo said.
“I truly believe it was the operator at error.”
Jury members did not ask to review any of the 1,200 documents presented at the trial before reaching its verdict, Hull said.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding me,’” Hull recalled thinking when he saw the jury return with its verdict.
“The trial went on a little longer than expected. They did not want to be there anymore.”
Hull, a retired auto mechanic, said Thursday he had been seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
According to federal court rules, the minimum awarded in the case would have been $75,000.
“It wasn’t a money thing,” said Hull, who walks with a visible limp.
SHRAPNEL IN LEG
He said he has about 100 pieces of shrapnel still lodged in his leg. “It was a thing to get into the public about Remington about what was going on with them,” Hull said
Hull was represented pro bono by Jackson Schmidt of Seattle and Stephen Drinnon and Jeffrey Hightower Jr., both of Dallas.
Sotomayor had “attempted to open the bolt or otherwise unload the weapon” immediately before the incident, Hull’s lawyers said in a March 28 trial brief.
“Without pulling the trigger, the rifle fired,” it said.
Remington, based in Madison, N.C., knew the rifle had a tendency to discharge without pulling the trigger and failed to warn of the danger, Hull’s lawyers said in their trial brief.
The defect resulted in more than 4,000 documented complaints and more than $20 million in settlements since 1993, the brief said.
The company has since designed a new trigger mechanism and installs it in nearly all of its newer bolt-action models, the brief said.
But Remington’s lawyers, John Wilson and Alfred Donohue of Seattle and Dale Willis and Andrew Lothson of Chicago, contended that the “sole cause” of the shooting was “careless and negligent handling” of the rifle by Sotomayor.
Sotomayor had placed the barrel of the loaded rifle on the front passenger seat and “caused the trigger to be pulled while his loaded rifle was pointed in [Hull’s] direction,” they said in their own trial brief.
Sotomayor had testified that the rifle’s safety was on and that he did not pull the trigger.
Remington’s lawyers said more than 5 million of its Model 700 bolt-action rifles have been manufactured since 1981, “making it by far the most popular bolt-action center-fire rifle ever made.”
Correct handling of the rifle or any firearm includes controlling the direction of the muzzle and being extra cautious while unloading the firearm, the brief said.
It also is against state law to place a loaded firearm inside a vehicle, the brief said.
The state of Washington took away Sotomayor’s hunting privileges for three years as a result of the incident, Remington’s lawyers said.
Sotomayor’s phone number was not listed, but Hull said Sotomayor did not want to comment on the verdict.
Hull said Thursday no decision has been made about appealing the verdict.
One of his lawyers told Hull he wants “to let everyone cool down and let their emotions go away a little bit,” Hull said.
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