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Lawsuits can be one way of holding companies responsible for making defective products. But settlements of those lawsuits have a way of hiding the true extent of injuries caused by a poorly designed or malfunctioning device.
Take, for example, Savage Arms' stainless steel 10 ML-II muzzleloader rifle. The company is facing another lawsuit over the rifle's tendency to explode, and while it has settled a few previous lawsuits, the actual number of hunters injured by the rifle ranges from a few dozen to possibly hundreds of victims.
How Many Hurt Hunters?
The Associated Press has the story of Ronald Hansen, who lost hearing in his right ear as well as pieces of two fingers on his right hand after his 10 ML-II muzzleloader exploded in 2014. Hansen is suing Savage Arms, and its parent company Vista Outdoor, claiming the manufacturers knew the rifle was dangerous and kept it on the market.
The AP also reports that Hansen's is just one of several claiming the company recklessly kept the guns on the market, at least three of which have been settled since last year. One of those settlements involved Trent Procter, who claims Savage Arms blamed him for improperly loading his 10 ML-II that "just blew apart" during a hunting trip in 2009.
Court documents in Hansen's case indicate the rifle manufacturer received 45 legal claims alleging the gun barrel exploded, burst, split, or cracked, since 2004. On top of that, Hansen's lawyers claim Savage Arms created an internal "muzzleloader return team" that received hundreds of warranty and service claims.
So why wasn't the malfunctioning firearm recalled? While the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to power to mandate recalls for thousands of other consumer goods, a 1976 law explicitly denied the CPSC authority over firearms and ammunition. Therefore, it's up to gun manufacturers whether to issue a recall for potentially dangerous weapons.
"It's an example of an industry that can essentially do whatever they want," Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C. told the AP, "and there's no consequences other than being held accountable in a civil liability context." That's where defective product lawsuits come in, even if confidential settlements may mask the true scope of the damage done.