Too much time has passed for man to sue after rifle accident, 7th Circuit says

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A lawsuit against a rifle manufacturer by an injured user was filed outside Indiana’s 10-year statute of repose for products-liability actions, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. The man’s modification to his rifle did not extend the time he had to sue.  

Adam Hartman received a muzzleloading rifle gun from his father in 1994. In 2008, Hartman installed a kit on his gun that was sold by the maker of the rifle that modified the muzzleloader and enabled it to ignite new propellants more reliably. The day after he added the kit, the gun unexpectedly discharged while he was trying to load it, causing the ramrod and a patched round ball to pass through his hands and arm.

He sued KR Warranty, the rifle and kit maker, and EBSCO Industries Inc., which had stock in KR Warranty, and another company. The District Court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding the statute of repose in Indiana barred his negligence and strict liability claims.

Hartman’s lawsuit could survive if he could prove the lawsuit fell under one of the two exceptions to the statute: where a manufacturer refurbishes a product to extend its useful life or where a defective new component is incorporated into the old product.

His lawsuit fails under the first exception because he could not show the kit he used to upgrade his rifle in 2008 extended the useful life of his gun. The judges also doubted that the statute of repose could ever be reset by a user-installed component like the conversion kit in question.

And the lawsuit also can’t survive under the second exception, the 7th Circuit pointed out. Its survival depends on testimony by Hartman’s expert, Steven Howard, that was excluded by the District Court. Howard had testified, among other things, that the upgraded conversion kit breech plug did increase the likelihood of latent embers getting trapped and prematurely igniting the newly loaded propellant. But the District Court didn’t admit this testimony because his theory wasn’t supported by evidence.

The 7th Circuit also pointed out that even if Hartman were able to survive summary judgment against KR Warranty, he would have no case against EBSCO, as that company had nothing to do with the rifle or the conversion kit.

The case is Adam Hartman v. EBSCO Industries Inc., et al, 13-3398.



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