Today's society is a consumer-based system where relationships are expressed when people buy products from companies. Product liability when accidents occur has become a focus point for many court cases and rulings. The purpose of this essay is to examine product liability laws by investigating a current case that merits discussion. In this essay I will examine the case of Chavez v Glock to reveal the processes involved when dealing with these types of disputes.
This essay will be structured to examine the finer details of how product liability can be a complicated issue and requires much analysis and discussion. I will first discuss the background of this case before weighing the legal options of the arguments. The next segment of the essay will discuss safety regulation of products and what regulatory agencies are ultimately responsible for certain actions. Lastly I will make recommendations to the company to assist in avoiding these types of law suits.
Background of Chavez v Glock
Late in July, 2012, California's Second District Court of Appeal has ruled that a paralyzed Los Angeles police officer, who was shot in the back by his three-year-old son with his gun may proceed with his lawsuit against the gun manufacturer. In this case the gun manufacturer was Glock. The police officer, Enrique Chavez was paralyzed after his young son was playing with the gun in the back seat of his car. Chavez claimed that the gun was not safe enough and was defective. This case was dismissed nearly two years ago but is now continuing.
The incident occurred on 11 July 2006 when Chavez, who was off duty, was in his car with his son in the back seat. The gun was fired into Chavez' back and paralyzed him from the waist down. Chavez claims that Glock should have anticipated that inappropriate and unsafe usage of its products was very likely to occur and that not enough was done to prevent this type of accident. Chavez in his suit also mentioned the gun holster's manufacturer as a defendant in the case with a similar argument.
Chavez' complaint with the manufacturer of this product is that the gun in question did not have enough trigger resistance and it was a loose cannon ready to go off without proper safety mechanisms to prevent accidental discharges. The plaintiff's case against the holster manufacturer claimed that the holster did not sufficiently protect the trigger or properly secure the gun.
The discussion for liability in this act must include some history about Chavez and his usage of firearms. Chavez has been on the Los Angeles Police Department since 1996 and was trained and qualified to use firearms as part of his job description. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) provided strict instructions about the storage of firearms when police are off-duty and not using them. Chavez had been using a Glock 21, the gun in question, since 2003 and began using this tool as his service weapon while on duty.
The incident in which Chavez was paralyzed began when he decided to store his gun in the back seat of his truck. He was transporting his young son to his parents to babysit the child when the incident occurred. His son picked up the gun and shot his father in the back while they were stopped at a red light paralyzing him. The LAPD brought a complaint against Chavez for failure to control his firearm which was sustained after an investigation of the tragic and horrible incident.
The Initial Case
In July 2008 the paralyzed ex-policeman and his wife filed their complaint and on January 8, 2009, a first amended complaint for strict product liability, negligence, breach of implied warranty and loss of consortium. The suit named the defendants as Glock, Inc., Revolver Club, Bushnell and Andrews Sporting Goods, Inc., doing business as Turner's Outdoorsman (Turner's). The amended complaint alleged, in essence, the Glock 21 is defective as to both design and warnings because it has a light trigger pull (5.5 pounds) yet lacks a safety mechanism to prevent accidental, unknowing or inadvertent discharge. With respect to the holster, the amended complaint alleged it is defective either because the trigger is not sufficiently protected and thus the gun can be fired while in the holster or the holster fails to properly secure the gun so a three-year-old cannot remove it.
As a result of this suit, Glock and Revolver Club jointly moved for summary judgment or, alternatively, summary adjudication. The defendants law team claimed that Chavez could not establish any of the three alleged defects in the Glock 21's design caused his injuries. They first argued that Chavez could not prove a heavier trigger pull would have prevented the accident because he is not able to establish the amount of force Collin exerted on the trigger when he discharged the pistol. Next, the legal team claimed that Chavez could not prove that an additional grip safety would have prevented the accident because there is no evidence where Collin's hands were positioned or how he was handling the pistol at the time of discharge. Finally, they asserted a manual safety would not have disallowed the misfortune because Chavez admitted he always stored and carried his other weapons with the manual safety de-cocking lever disengaged and thus the only reasonable inference is that he would not have engaged a manual safety on the Glock 21 if there had been one. Glock and Revolver Club further argued Chavez's reckless conduct, including leaving loaded guns in his truck and failing to secure Collin in a proper car seat, was the sole cause of his injury.
On August 19, 2010 the court filed its final order granting Glock and Revolver Club's motion for summary judgment. With respect to design defect under the risk-benefit test, the court found, the Glock Model 21 pistol at issue in this action is not defectively designed as a matter of law because the substantial benefits of the Glock pistol design, including the trigger pull configuration the Los Angeles Police Department specifically chose and required, and the absence of a manual safety, including a grip safety, outweigh any risk of danger that may be inherent in this design. The Court also finds that the plaintiffs cannot establish that any of their proposed alternative designs would have prevented this incident. The court further found Chavez could not prove the Glock 21 was defective under the consumer expectation test. Bushnell and Turner's motion for summary judgment was also awarded to the plaintiff.
This past summer the appellate court reopened this case and required summary judgment to be dismissed and a trial must ensue. The appellate court found the trial court erred because the defendants failed to carry their initial burden to demonstrate the officer cannot prove the lack of grip safety or the light trigger pull caused his injury. It further found there were triable issues of fact whether the officer's causes of action are barred under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act [PLCAA; 15 U.S.C. § 7901-7903.] because there was a dispute whether or not the officer was using the gun in a manner consistent with his training to provide protection while he was off duty. Regarding the holster, the appellate court said plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a triable issue of fact it was defective under either the risk-benefit test or the consumer expectation test, and that there are no triable issues of fact whether the holster caused the injuries. Chavez v. Glock, Inc. (Cal. App. Second Dist., Div. 7; July 24, 2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 1283).
As the case awaits trial there are many learning points that are important and relevant to this case. Visccusi (2012) explained how liability law is not always clear cut and easy to understand. He stated that "posing the question of whether product liability law is safety-
enhancing does not, however, imply that this framing of the mission of product liability is appropriate. Higher levels of safety may not be desirable. For almost all products, it does not make economic sense to ensure that products are risk-free. Rather, from the standpoint of economic efficiency, for continuous safety choices the penalties established through tort liability should provide financial incentives for firms to provide the products that achieve a level of risk that equates the incremental benefits of greater safety with the incremental costs" (p.24).
The political climate in America today has pushed many to extreme positions of either pro-gun or anti-gun. The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution which is the source of all federal laws in this country, is being parsed and argued in the court of public opinion every day. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, is the enforcing agency of proper firearm usage at the national level and to complicate matters more there are state and local laws and regulations that contribute to this confusing and ultimately unsolvable problem.