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Gower v. Savage Arms, Inc.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
166 F. Supp. 2d 240 (2001)


Facts

John Gower (plaintiff), who had substantial training and experience in using firearms, purchased a Savage Model 99C rifle from a retail store in 1989. The rifle was manufactured by Savage Industries, Inc. in 1987. Savage Industries shipped its rifles to retailers in boxes that contained instructions. Gower’s rife, however, had been sold to him “off the rack,” without its box or any instructions. In 1988, Savage Industries filed for bankruptcy and transferred its Model 99C product line to a company it set up called Savage Arms, Inc. (defendant). In 1997, Gower was about to unload the rifle after a day of hunting when it discharged, shooting him in the foot. The gun was in the “safe” position at the time. Gower and his wife Debra (plaintiff) sued Savage Arms and Savage Sports Corporation (defendant), alleging that defendants bore successor liability to the Gowers on the grounds that the rifle had insufficient warnings and the following defects: (1) a design defect that prevented the rifle from being unloaded in the “safe” position (“unloading defect”); (2) a design defect in the rifle’s lack of a detent system to improve safety (“detent defect”); and (3) a manufacturing defect that resulted in Gower’s particular rifle having a small metal ridge that caused the safety mechanism to gradually fail (“manufacturing defect”). The Gowers’ claims regarding the detent defect and manufacturing defect were supported by their expert, James Mason. Mason opined that a detent system would make the rifle more “user friendly” even though the existing set-up was “adequate.” He offered evidence of the manufacturing defect by comparing Gower’s rifle to an exemplar in the same product line: Gower’s rifle clearly deviated from the exemplar. Defendants moved for summary judgment while a Daubert motion regarding the admissibility of Mason’s expert opinion was also pending.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (McLaughlin, J.)

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