Garrison et al v. Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 6/12/2018. (AFS)
2018 Jun-12 PM 01:09
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SHANNON WAYNE GARRISON
and CONNIE SUE GARRISON,
STURM, RUGER & COMPANY,
Civil Action Number
This products liability action arises from injuries Shannon Wayne Garrison
sustained from the accidental discharge of his Ruger “Blackhawk” revolver.
Following his accident, Garrison filed suit against Sturm, Ruger & Company
(Ruger), the revolver’s manufacturer, alleging negligence (Count I), breach of the
Alabama Extended Manufacturers’ Liability Doctrine (AEMLD) (Count II), breach
of the implied warranty of merchantability (Count III), and strict liability (Count
IV).1 Ruger has now moved for summary judgment, doc. 36, arguing primarily
that its “old-model” single-action revolver was not a defective product, and that its
alleged failure to adequately warn Garrison was not the proximate cause of his
Garrison’s wife, Connie Sue Garrison, also brings a loss of consortium claim (Count V).
The court need not address this derivative claim separately and treats Shannon Garrison as the
sole plaintiff in this action. See Ga. Power Co. v. Partin, 727 So. 2d 2, 6 (Ala. 1998).
accident. That motion is now fully briefed, docs. 37; 40; and 42, and ripe for
review. After careful consideration of the parties’ excellent briefs, Alabama law,
and the entirety of the record, the court finds that Ruger’s motion is due to be
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Anderson v Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, “a party
opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . . . must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue.” Id. at 256. However, “[t]he
evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to
be drawn in [her] favor.” Id. at 255. Indeed, it is explicitly not the role of the court
to “weigh conflicting evidence or to make credibility determinations.” Mize v.
Jefferson City Bd. Of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996); see also Anderson,
477 U.S. at 255 (explaining “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the
evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury
functions, not those of a judge”).
“[M]ere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally
insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d
1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d
1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Nor will “a . . . ‘scintilla of evidence in support of
the nonmoving party . . . suffice.’” Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th
Cir. 2016) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir.
2004)). In short, if “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial,’” and
summary judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted).
A. The Accident of September 21, 2014
On September 21, 2014, Garrison was checking several game cameras he
had placed at the Capsy Hunting Club in Winston County, Alabama while riding
his ATV through the property. Doc. 41-6 at 3. Garrison was carrying his fully
loaded Ruger “Blackhawk” revolver in a holster on his right hip with the firearm’s
hammer in the full down position, the hammer position he believed was designed
to allow for the safe carrying of the weapon. Docs. 41-1 at 9, 15; 31-4 at 17.
While driving over an unpaved road, the revolver fell from the holster and
discharged upon striking the ground.
Id. at 11, 15–16.
The bullet struck
Garrison’s right ankle and traveled upward through his body, seriously injuring
him and causing him to fall from the ATV. Id. at 7, 16–18; Doc. 41-6 at 4.
Despite his injuries, Garrison managed to use the ATV to return to his truck and
then drove to a nearby home for assistance in guiding first responders to his remote
location. Doc. 41-1 at 7–8. Garrison was subsequently airlifted to an area hospital
where he underwent extensive medical treatment. Id. at 8. To this day, Garrison
continues to receive medical treatment for his injuries. Id. at 40-41.
B. The Mechanical Operation of the Revolver and Alternative Designs
The Ruger Blackhawk at issue here is part of a line of Ruger “old-model”
single-action revolvers. Doc. 37-2 at 3–4. Ruger intended this product line to
replicate the look and feel of an iconic firearm, the Colt Model 1873 Single-Action
Army Revolver. Docs. 41-3 at 3; 37-4 at 34–35; 37-8 at 50. While Ruger largely
retained the aesthetics and basic mechanical functioning of this classic firearm, it
used modern materials in constructing the revolver and altered the dimensions and
types of some of the gun’s mechanical components. Docs. 41-3 at 3; 37-4 at 34;
37-8 at 50. Ruger manufactured its “old-model” single-action revolvers from 1953
until 1973 selling nearly 1.3 million units, including the revolver at issue in this
case, which was originally purchased in 1969. Docs. 37-2 at 3–4; 37-8 at 50. The
Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver had several distinctive characteristics
including its single-action firing mechanism, which requires the user to manually
pull the hammer back into firing position before discharging the weapon. Docs.
37-4 at 35–36, 42, 51. In contrast, double-action revolvers do not require the user
to manually “cock” the hammer before firing. Doc. 37-4 at 36, 42; 37-8 at 20. The
Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver also incorporated a loading gate, a
loading mechanism in which the cylinder remains attached to the frame of the gun
and is rotated to individually load cartridges. Doc. 37-4 at 33–34; 37-8 at 17, 23.
Other styles of revolver use different loading methods. For example, in a “topbreak” revolver, the gun’s frame is hinged to enable the barrel to be pushed down
thereby opening the cylinder and allowing the user to rapidly load the weapon.
Docs. 37-4 at 36; 37-8 at 23.
The Ruger “old-model,” like its historical predecessor, has an external
hammer with four possible resting positions: (1) full-down; (2) safety-notch; (3)
loading notch; and (4) fully cocked. Doc. 37-3 at 13. In the full-down position,
the hammer rests directly on the firing pin, the mechanism in the revolver which
actually strikes the primer on the rear of the bullet causing the gun to discharge.
Doc. 37-3 at 13; 37-8 at 29. There is no dispute that, in this configuration, a blow
to the back of the hammer can cause the gun to fire accidentally, even if the trigger
is never pulled. Doc. 37-3 at 13; 37-4 at 26. Similarly, there is no dispute that
placing the hammer in the “safety” position does not fully alleviate the risk of
accidental discharge in the event that a sufficiently powerful blow to the hammer is
sustained. Docs. 37-3 at 13; 37-4 at 17–18.
Ruger sold each of its “old-model” single-action revolvers with an
instruction manual. Doc. 37-2 at 3. The manual outlined the various hammer
positions and explained that “when the hammer is resting in the safety-notch, the
gun may be safely carried loaded under all normal conditions.” Id. at 10. The
manual also provided bolded precautions for the use of “the older types of single
action revolvers” namely that “[t]he gun should never be carried with the hammer
resting on the firing pin and a loaded cartridge in the chamber that is aligned with
the barrel” because of the danger of accidental discharge. Id. The parties agree
that Garrison did not receive an instruction manual when he acquired the revolver
from a second-hand purchaser, and that Garrison subsequently made no effort to
either acquire a manual or to learn about the firearm’s safety features and operating
characteristics. Docs. 40 at 11; 41-1 at 33–34.
The parties also agree that several “passive” safeties capable of alleviating
the risk of accidental discharge in the event a fully-loaded firearm was dropped
were in use prior to 1970. Doc. 40 at 14–15. One suggested alternative, a
“transfer bar” safety, primarily entailed the insertion of a steel bar between the
hammer and the firing pin. Docs. 37-8 at 51-52; 41-3 at 4. When the trigger is
pulled, the bar raises for the hammer to strike and then transfers the energy of the
blow to the firing pin. Doc. 41-3 at 4. Without the bar in place, the hammer is
unable to strike the pin to discharge the weapon. Id. The other alternative, a
rebounding hammer and hammer block safety, uses a spring to physically force the
hammer away from the frame and then seals the hammer in position using a block
or a plate. Id. The block only disengages when the trigger is pulled, again
effectively preventing the hammer from striking the firing pin in other
circumstances. Id. at 4–5. While these “passive” safety features would have
prevented Garrison’s injuries, no evidence has been presented to indicate that they
were actually available for use in fixed cylinder, single-action revolvers sharing the
characteristics of a Ruger “old-model” revolver in 1969. See Docs. 37-4 at 38, 41–
42; 37-8 at 52; 40 at 9 (arguing that a “rebounding hammer and hammer block
design was available for implementation into the subject revolver”) (emphasis
added). It was not until 1973 that Ruger developed and patented a transfer bar
safety for use in a single-action revolver. Doc. 37-8 at 51–52.
The complaint pleads four substantive counts related to the revolver.
Garrison has conceded that one of these counts—strict liability (Count IV), is due
to be dismissed. See Doc. 40 at 19 n.7. Therefore, the court will only address the
first three counts.
A. AEMLD and Negligence Design Claims–Count I and II
To establish liability under the AEMLD, Garrison must show that “(1) he
suffered injury or damages to himself or his property by one who sells a product in
a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff . . . , if (a) the seller is
engaged in the business of selling such a product, and (b) it [reaches]the user . . .
without substantial change in the condition in which it [was] sold.” Casrell v.
Altec Indus., Inc., 335 So. 2d 128, 132–33 (Ala. 1976). Despite the AEMLD’s
existence, however, traditional negligence claims, like the one asserted by Garrison
in Count I, remain viable. See Tillman v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Co., 871 So. 2d
28, 35 (Ala. 2003) (explaining that “the judicially created AEMLD . . . [does not]
subsume the common-law tort actions of negligence and wantonness”).
prevail on a negligence theory against a manufacturer requires proof of the
traditional elements of “(1) duty, (2) breach of duty, (3) proximate cause, and (4)
injury.” Yamaha Motor Co. v. Thornton, 579 So. 2d 619, 623 (Ala. 1991).
While these two causes of action remain conceptually distinct, “a plaintiff
pursuing a products-liability claim against a manufacturer under either theory can
succeed only if the plaintiff establishes that the product at issue is sufficiently
unsafe so as to render it defective.” McMahon v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., 95
So. 3d 769, 772 (Ala. 2012).2 Under Alabama law, “[t]he term ‘defective’ means
that the product fails to meet the reasonable safety expectations of an ‘ordinary
consumer,’ that is, an objective ‘ordinary consumer,’ possessed of the ordinary
knowledge common to the community.” Deere & Co. v. Grose, 586 So. 2d 196,
198 (Ala. 1991); see also Tillman, 871 So. 2d at 32 (explaining that “[t]he
important factor is whether it is safe or dangerous when the product is used as it
was intended to be used . . [in other words] [t]he article sold must be dangerous to
an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who
purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community”) (quotations
Significantly, “‘certain products whose inherent danger is patent and
obvious, do not, as a matter of law, involve defects of a sort that a jury should
As explained by the Alabama Supreme Court in the context of a tort suit based on the
alleged defectiveness of a product, AEMLD claims overlap with common law torts in that the
AEMLD retains “the tort concept of fault.” Casrell, 335 So. 2d at 132. Fault, or negligence for
AEMLD purposes is shown as a matter of law if the manufacturer “plac[es] a product on the
market causing personal injury or property damage, when used to its intended purpose.” Id. On
the other hand, a traditional negligence claim based on a defective product requires an additional
step beyond proof of deficiency: “that the manufacturer failed to exercise due care in the
product’s manufacture, design, or sale.” McMahon, 95 So. 3d at 772. In either case, the burden
of showing that the product is defective is identical. Id.
Alabama courts appear to treat the terms “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous”
synonymously: “a ‘defect’ is that which renders a product ‘unreasonably dangerous,’ i.e., not fit
for its intended purpose.” Casrell, 335 So. 2d at 133. However, the court’s explanation that if a
product is unreasonably dangerous “it is necessarily defective, and the consumer should not be
required to prove defectiveness as a separate matter,” see id. at 131, suggests that the concepts
are distinct. The Court has since clarified that this language only means that “AEMLD plaintiffs
[are relieved] of the burden of proving the specific negligent conduct that ultimately caused a
defective condition in a manufacturer’s product.” Taylor v. Gen. Motors Corp., 707 So. 2d 198,
202 (Ala. 1997). It is still necessary to “prove the existence of a defective condition.” Id.
resolve.’” Tillman, 871 So. 2d at 32 (quoting Elliott v. Brunswick Corp., 903 F.2d
1505, 1507 (11th Cir. 1990)) (emphasis in original).
In other words, simply
because “‘the use of [a] product involves some risk’” does not establish the
existence of a product defect. Id. (quoting Elliott, 903 F.2d at 1507). Ultimately,
the “plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the product was in a defective
condition when it left the defendant’s control.” Jordan v. Gen. Motors Corp., 581
So. 2d 835, 837 (Ala. 1991); see also Bell v. T.R. Miller Mill Co., 768 So. 2d 953,
957 (Ala. 2000) (explaining that “the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff to
prove that the product left the defendant’s control in an unreasonably dangerous
condition and not fit for its expected use”). Accordingly, the revolver at issue here
must have been defective according to the prevailing consumer standards in 1969,
the date of its manufacture, rather than 2014, when Garrison sustained his injury.
For inherently dangerous products like firearms, defectiveness is only
established by proving “that a safer, practical, alternative design was available to
the manufacturer at the time it manufactured the [product].” Beech v. Outboard
Marine Corp., 584 So. 2d 447, 450 (Ala. 1991) (quotation omitted). This entails
showing that “(a) [t]he plaintiff’s injuries would have been eliminated or in some
way reduced by use of the alternative design; and that (b) taking into consideration
. . . [a variety of factors] the utility of the alternative design outweighed the utility
of the design actually used.” Id. (quotation omitted). However, “simply because a
feasible [alternative design] could have been [created] by a proper use of the
manufacturer’s resources [is not enough to show] that an ‘alternative design’
existed.” Id. (quotation omitted); see also Elliott, 903 F.2d at 1508 (11th Cir.
1990) (explaining that “courts cannot burden companies with an immediate duty to
revolutionize their industry”).4 Moreover, to succeed on either a negligence or an
AEMLD claim, the plaintiff must provide evidence “establishing the existence of a
safer, practical, alternative design for the allegedly defective product—not a design
for a different, albeit similar, product, even if it serves the same purpose.” Hosford
v. BRK Brands, Inc., 223 So. 3d 199, 208 (Ala. 2016); see also Richards v.
Michelin Tire Corp., 21 F.3d 1048, 1056 (11th Cir. 1994) (“under Alabama law a
plaintiff must prove that a safer, practical, alternative design was available to the
manufacturer at the time it manufactured its product” to prevail on a negligent
design claim); Brest v. Chrysler Corp., 939 F. Supp. 843, 846 (M.D. Ala. 1996)
(noting that the Alabama Supreme Court applies the alternative design test to both
negligence and AEMLD theories).
In the case at hand, Ruger contests only the defective design element of
Garrison’s AEMLD and common-law negligence claims, arguing that the revolver
met the expectations of an ordinary consumer in 1969, and that, in any event, a
But, proof of compliance with “industry-wide practices . . . fails to eliminate
conclusively . . . liability for [a] design of [an] allegedly defective product.” Elliott, 903 F.2d
at 1508; see also Dunn v. Wixom Bros., 493 So. 2d 1356, 1359 (Ala. 1986) (explaining that
“customary practices or standards do not furnish a conclusive test of negligence”).
safer design was unavailable prior to 1970.
In response, Garrison notes that
alternative designs existed, at least as evidenced by other classes of firearms, and
that a factual dispute exists with regard to the safety expectations of a reasonable
consumer in 1969.
The court will first address the question of consumer
expectation before turning to the issue of whether a safer alternative design existed.
1. Did the Subject Revolver Meet the Reasonable Safety Expectations of
an Ordinary Consumer in 1969
The parties’ arguments on this point are easily summarized. In essence,
Ruger contends that (1) the subject revolver was state-of-the-art for its time, (2)
that no other fixed-cylinder, single-action revolver available in 1969 possessed
safety features that would have alleviated the risk of accidental discharge
indisputably posed by the firearm at issue here, and (3) that the weapon had
existed, in substantially the same form, since the 1950s when it first entered the
market. Moreover, Ruger contends that responsible gun owners are uniformly
aware that it is unsafe to carry a single-action revolver of this type fully loaded
with the hammer down. Ruger maintains that these facts establish that the revolver
in question, despite the drop-fire hazard it posed, met the safety expectations of an
ordinary consumer at the time of its manufacture.
Garrison counters that in 1969 other types of firearms, such as double-action
revolvers, utilized “passive” safety features which largely eliminated the risk of
accidental discharge without a trigger pull. Garrison also points out that Ruger
specifically targeted lay consumers in its marketing campaigns which repeatedly
referred to this type of revolver as a “Single-Six” suggesting that it was safe to
Finally, Garrison argues that similar drop-fire accidents
involving the Ruger “old-model” single action revolver have injured 273 people
and killed 34 individuals, doc. 40 at 19,5 revealing that the firearm was dangerous
beyond the expectation of an ordinary consumer.
“[U]nder Alabama law, a jury ordinarily evaluates a plaintiff’s claims that a
product is defective,” Elliott, 903 F.2d at 1507, or “the dangerousness of a
product.” Tillman, 871 So. 2d at 32. 6 Although much of evidence in this case is
undisputed, the “reasonable” inferences arising from the evidence are not. And,
notably, neither party has specifically put forth evidence articulating what safety
expectations “an objective ‘ordinary consumer,’ possessed of the ordinary
knowledge common to the community,” Grose, 586 So. 2d at 198, would have had
with respect to the subject revolver in 1969. In this regard, Ruger’s primary
argument has considerable force. It is true that there is no evidence before the
However, the undisputed evidence shows that Ruger sold 858,421 single-action
revolvers through 1969 and had only received four reports of drop-fire accidents prior to that
point. Docs. 37-2 at 14; 40 at 30; 42 at 8–9. This strongly suggests that reasonable consumers in
1969 knew it was unsafe to carry the revolver fully-loaded and, accordingly, avoided doing so.
Neither side argues that a revolver is a product that is so obviously dangerous it does
not involve a defect of the sort “a jury should resolve.” Tillman, 871 So. 2d at 32 (quoting
Elliott, 903 F.2d at 1507). The court addresses the question only to point out that although a
firearm has certain patently obvious dangers, the danger of discharge without a trigger pull does
not fall into this category as it is a risk apart from the particular danger associated with use of
revolvers generally. See id. at 32–33 (discussing the extremely well-documented dangers
associated with the ordinary use of cigarettes); see also Elliott, 903 F.2d at 1507 (liability
requires more than just showing that “the use of [a] product involves some risk”).
court indicating that fixed cylinder single-action revolvers sold at the time
possessed a “passive” safety capable of reducing the risk of discharge without a
trigger pull prior to 1970. Docs. 37-4 at 38, 41–42; 37-8 at 52. Instead, all the
guns in the subject revolver’s class, at the time, possessed a similar risk of
accidental discharge if a blow directly to the hammer of a fully-loaded weapon was
sustained. Doc. 37-8 at 50–51. Given the prevalence of this type of firearm—
Ruger sold over 800,000 “old-model” single action revolvers by 1969, doc. 37-2 at
14—and the uniform lack of passive safety-features among firearms falling into
this category, it certainly appears likely that an ordinary consumer would have
known of the hazard of accidental discharge and acted accordingly.7
However, at this stage of the proceeding, the court may not “weigh
conflicting evidence,” Mize, 93 F.3d at 742, and it must draw “all justifiable
inferences” in favor of the nonmovant. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. In that
light, Garrison has put forward enough evidence to create a justifiable inference
that the subject revolver would have failed to meet the ordinary safety expectations
This inference is strengthened by the fact that, as Ruger has consistently maintained,
responsible gun owners are typically aware that a firearm should never be carried with a round in
the chamber and the hammer resting on the firing pin. Doc. 37-2 at 3. This rule appears
ubiquitous in the safety literature stretching back until at least 1969, and the experts who testified
in this case uniformly indicated that the rule reflects standard best practices. Doc. 37-4 24, 27–
28; 37-8 at 27. Accordingly, an ordinary consumer would have known that carrying a fullyloaded revolver with a chambered round posed a risk of danger, and the gun would have
otherwise met such a consumer’s ordinary expectations of safety. As Ruger argues, the subject
revolver operates as intended and is perfectly safe when used for its intended purpose. The gun
poses a risk, apart from the ordinary danger posed by all guns, only if it is dropped or sustains a
blow directly to the hammer while a round is chambered, a risk that ordinary gun users likely
expect regardless of the presence of a “passive” safety.
of a consumer in 1969. First, although Ruger notes that “passive” safety features
were not available on single-action revolvers, these types of safeties were routinely
used in other classes of firearms, including double-action revolvers, and had
existed in some form since the nineteenth century. Docs. 41-3 at 4–5; 37-8 at 52.
Moreover, there is no dispute that these “passive” safeties would have essentially
eliminated the risk of accidental discharge without a trigger pull. Docs. 37-4 at 11,
26; 41-5 at 46. While the parties’ respective experts have done a great job in
explaining the difference between a double-action and a single-action revolver to
this court, neither side has indicated that an ordinary consumer, without the benefit
of the tutorial provided by these experts, would be able to easily distinguish
between the two types of weapons.
In such an instance, a consumer might
reasonably assume that these distinct classes of revolver incorporated similar
safety features, and, accordingly, that the risk of accidental discharge within each
class was correspondingly low.
This inference is further strengthened by Ruger’s marketing scheme. As
Garrison points out, Ruger marketed the firearm as a “single-six,” commonly
referred to the revolver as a six-shooter, and expressly designed it to capture the
“Wild West” aesthetic popular during the 1950s and 60s. Docs. 37-8 at 14, 49–51;
41-23 at 2. This marketing and design philosophy suggests that Ruger marketed
the gun, at least in part, to first time gun owners and other neophytes who might
assume that the revolver was safe to carry fully-loaded. Therefore, in the absence
of expert testimony establishing consumer safety expectations in 1969, the court
finds that Garrison has done enough to create an inference that, based on the
availability of “passive” safety features in double-action revolvers and other types
of firearms, a reasonable consumer in 1969 would have assumed that similar safety
features were also incorporated into the subject revolver.
2. Was a Feasible, Safer Alternative Design for the Revolver Available in
To prove defectiveness, however, Garrison must also show that “a safer,
practical, alternative design was available to the manufacturer at the time it
manufactured the [product].” Beech, 584 So. 2d at 450 (quotation omitted). The
parties’ contentions with respect to this issue are essentially identical to their
consumer expectations arguments. Basically, Garrison avers that the existence of
passive safety features on other classes of firearms at the time of manufacture, and
the undisputed safety advantage of those designs, suffice to establish the
availability of an alternative product design. Ruger counters that its “old-model”
single-action revolver product line is a distinct firearm, targeted at a niche market,
and that no comparable safety features existed on that particular class of weapons
at the time of manufacture. After careful consideration of the record, the court
concludes that, as a matter of law, no alternative design was available to Ruger at
the time of manufacture, and, consequently, Garrison is unable to sustain his
AEMLD and negligence claims.
Under Alabama law, Garrison bears the burden of proving product
defectiveness and, necessarily, the existence of a safer, practical, alternative
design. See, e.g., Gen. Motors Corp. v. Jernigan, 883 So. 2d 646, 662 (Ala. 2003)
(explaining that “[i]n an AEMLD case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving a
design defect”); Garrie v. Summit Treestands, LLC, 50 So. 3d 458, 464–66 (Ala.
Civ. App. 2010) (affirming summary judgment on an AEMLD claim when
plaintiff failed to show the existence of a specific, alternative design). To meet his
burden, Garrison cites two alternative designs: (1) a “transfer-bar safety design;”
and (2) a “rebounding hammer and hammer block safety design.” Doc. 40 at 14.
Ruger does not dispute that these designs would have prevented Garrison’s injuries
or that once developed implementing either design would have been feasible.
Therefore, the sole question before the court is whether either design was
“available” to Ruger for use in its “old-model” single-action revolver in 1969.
Critically, there is no evidence before the court to indicate that any firearm
manufacturer had applied either of the proposed safety features to a revolver
sharing the essential features of a Ruger “old-model” single-action prior to 1970.
With respect to the transfer-bar safety system, Ruger patented such a design, as
applied to an “old-model” single-action revolver, in 1973, years after it
manufactured the revolver at issue here. Doc. 37-8 at 51–52.8 While Garrison’s
expert noted that these safety features were in use prior to 1970, the expert was
subsequently unable to identify, in either his deposition or his report, any singleaction revolvers sharing the characteristics of a Ruger “old-model” single-action
that incorporated either a “transfer-bar” or a “rebounding hammer” prior to 1970.
Doc. 37-4 at 35, 38, 41–42. This testimony by Garrison’s expert belies Garrison’s
contentions that the two designs he proposes were available to Ruger at the time it
manufactured the subject revolver.
Additionally, Garrison’s contentions regarding the “rebounding hammer and
hammer block” design fail for a separate reason.
Although the “rebounding
hammer” safety design was utilized on single-action revolvers prior to 1970, the
undisputed evidence is that this type of safety was only viable when incorporated
into a “top-break” or “break action” revolver. Doc. 37-8 at 23. That is, a revolver
with a hinged frame enabling the cylinder to separate from the gun frame for
loading purposes. Id. In the Ruger “old-model” single-action, and other similar
revolvers, no such hinge exists, and the cylinder is latched to the hammer. Doc.
While the court does not heavily rely on the issuance of a patent to establish the state of
the art at the time of manufacture, the fact that a patent involving the incorporation of a “transferbar” into a single-action revolver was issued in 1973 does suggest that the innovation was both
novel and nonobvious at the time. See 35 U.S.C. §§ 102; 103; Graham v. John Deere Co. of
Kansas City, 383 U.S. 1, 12, 14–15 (1966) (describing the three criteria for patentability under
the 1952 Patent Act as “novelty and utility . . . and nonobviousness,” that is “the difference
between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art . . . If this difference is such
that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time to a person skilled in the
art, then the subject matter cannot be patented”).
37-4 at 33–34; 37-8 at 17, 23. Consequently, the unique features of the Ruger
“old-model” single-action revolver prevent the use of a “rebounding hammer”
design because it would cause the cylinder to unlock as the gun fired potentially
exposing the user to the hot gases generated by the firing process. Doc. 37-8 at 52.
In other words, the rebounding hammer design is not a feasible alternative for the
type of firearm at issue in this case.
The evidence submitted by Garrison in support of the existence of these
proposed alternative designs is generally inapposite. First, Garrison’s reliance on
deposition testimony given by William Ruger in 1982 is misplaced. Although
William Ruger testified that certain passive safeties were available for use during
the 1950s, he added that this type of safety was not “available, not for a single
action,” and that “there was no safety for single-action . . . until [he] invented one
[in 1973].” Doc. 41-13 at 27
Ruger’s current vice-president Kevin B. Reid,
supported this testimony. Garrison is certainly correct that Reid indicated that
aesthetic calculations factored into the development of a “passive” safety for the
Ruger revolver at issue. Doc. 41-5 at 52. However, Reid also explained the
mechanical difficulty of incorporating a “rebounding hammer” safety system into
the “old-model” revolver, and indicated that the technology enabling the
incorporation of a “transfer-bar” safety into the firearm did not exist until the
1970s. Id. at 46–47, 52; Doc. 37-8 at 52.
Similarly, the December 1973 letter drafted by an expert witness for Ruger
in a separate product liability action, and relied on by Garrison here, does not
establish the availability of alternative designs in 1969.
Although the letter
references attempts by other manufacturers to incorporate various safety features
into single-action revolvers to prevent the risk of accidental discharge, it never
specifies when those design changes went into effect, and, indeed, the letter
affirmatively indicates that the referenced design changes were not implemented
before 1970. Doc. 41-19 at 3. The closest the letter comes to establishing the
availability of a “passive” safety on a single-action revolver, prior to 1970, is its
reference to the incorporation of a “rebounding-hammer” into a revolver designed
by Savage Industries in the 1950s.
Id. at 6.
However, this model was
“experimental” and there is no indication that it ever went into commercial
production. Id. Moreover, both of the patents Garrison points to as demonstrating
the existence of the “transfer-bar” and “rebounding hammer” safeties prior to 1969
were never applied to revolvers sharing the features of a Ruger “old-model” singleaction revolver. Doc. 37-4 at 41–42; 45–46; 37-8 at 52. Instead, the evidence
shows that due to the distinct trigger mechanism and loading functionality of the
various classes of revolver neither safety could be directly incorporated into a
firearm like the Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver at issue here. Doc. 37-4
at 36, 41–42; 37-8 at 52.
Based on this record, Garrison has failed to identify a single firearm, of the
same product line as the Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver, possessing
either suggested type of “passive” safety before 1970. Perhaps in recognition of
the evidence against him on this issue, Garrison contends alternatively that the
mere existence of these designs, in conjunction with Ruger’s undisputed awareness
of the risk of accidental discharge posed by the “old-model” single-action revolver,
sufficiently establish that Ruger could have adapted a “passive” safety of some
type for use in the firearm by 1969.9 The court agrees generally that the record
does, at the least, support an inference that a sufficiently dedicated engineer could
have adapted one of Garrison’s proposed alternative designs for use in a Ruger
“old-model” single-action revolver prior to 1970. However, the law does not
“burden companies with an immediate duty to revolutionize their industry.”
Elliott, 903 F.3d at 1508.
Alabama law makes clear that “simply because a
feasible [safety feature] could have been designed by a proper use of the
manufacturer’s resources” does not suffice to establish “that an ‘alternative design’
existed.” Beech, 584 So. 2d at 450 (quotation omitted) (emphasis original). In
other words, that the general technological capacity to create and implement a
Evidence establishing that a product conforms to industry standards is not enough,
standing alone, to demonstrate that a product is not defective. See Dunn, 493 So. 2d at 1359
(noting that “customary practices or standards do not furnish a conclusive test of negligence” as
the industry standard itself “may be faulty”). However, this is not a case where, despite the
availability of an alternative design, the industry maintained an inferior prior practice. Instead,
the record demonstrates that potential alternatives were unavailable in the first instance.
safer, alternative design may have existed is insufficient, as a matter of law, for a
plaintiff to establish that design’s availability. See id. at 449–50 (finding that
“there is no cause of action, under either the AEMLD or negligence or wantonness
theories” when the only evidence to show an alternative design existed was that “a
feasible [alternative, safe design] could have been designed by a proper use of the
manufacturer’s resources”) (emphasis original).
Alabama law further forecloses Garrison’s argument that the Ruger “oldmodel” single-action revolver was categorically unsafe for consumer use in light of
the existence of other, indisputably safer firearms. “‘A manufacturer is not obliged
to market only one version of a product, that being the very safest design
possible.’” Hosford, 223 So. 3d at 207 (quoting Linegar v. Armour of Am., Inc.,
909 F.2d 1150, 1154 (8th Cir. 1990)). Indeed, “‘[i]t is not rational . . . to impose
liability in such a way as to eliminate whole categories of useful products from the
market.’” Id. at 206 (quoting Caterpillar, Inc. v. Shears, 911 S.W.2d 379, 385
(Tex. 1995)). Put simply, liability under the AEMLD is only appropriate if the
plaintiff establishes “the existence of a safer, practical, alternative design for the
allegedly defective product—not a design for a different, albeit similar, product,
even if [that product] serves the same purpose.” Id. at 208. After all, “‘[a]
motorcycle could be made safer by adding two additional wheels and a cab, but
then it is no longer a motorcycle.’” Id. at 206 (citing Caterpillar, 911 S.W.2d at
Garrison seeks to avoid this conclusion by arguing that Ruger could have
incorporated his proposed safety-features into the revolver at issue without
changing the nature of the product.
This contention is unavailing, however,
because Garrison has entirely failed, as explained, to demonstrate that an
alternative design for the Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver existed in
Moreover, as Garrison’s expert admits, the Ruger “old-model” single-
action, or “Colt-type” revolver at issue here is not the same product as the doubleaction or top-break revolvers that Garrison relies on to demonstrate the feasibility
of his proposed safety-features. Doc. 37-4 at 34–36. The Ruger “old-model”
single-action was designed to replicate the look and feel of a historical revolver,
the Colt Single Action Army, and, to that end, it incorporated the major design
features from that firearm. Docs. 41-3 at 3; 37-4 at 34–35; 37-8 at 50. Both guns
were single-action with external hammer notches and both included a rotating
cylinder with a fixed loading gate. Doc. 37-4 at 33–36. The record indicates that a
variety of manufacturers, American and European, designed and built similar
single-action, fixed cylinder revolvers during the 1950s and 1960s to capitalize on
a distinct market of gun enthusiasts who prized the look and feel of the Colt
Single-Action Army revolver. Doc. 37-8 at 23–25, 49–51. Despite the popularity
of this type of revolver, however, even Garrison’s expert testified that he could not
identify any successful attempts to create a safer firearm by incorporating a
“transfer-bar” or a “rebounding-hammer” into the gun prior to 1970. Doc. 37-4 at
35, 38, 41–42.
Although the question of “whether a proposed alternative design in an
AEMLD case is sufficiently similar to the allegedly defective product to be
considered an actual alternative design . . . is generally a question of fact for the
jury . . . there are necessarily some circumstances where a court can” decide the
issue as a matter of law. Hosford, 223 So. 3d at 205 (quotation omitted). This is
one of those cases.
For example, in Hosford, the plaintiff asserted that her
“ionization smoke alarm” was defective and proposed a “dual-sensor smoke alarm
incorporating both ionization and photoelectric technology” as a safer alternative.
Id. at 204. The manufacturer conceded that this type of “dual sensor” alarm was
available even though it was more expensive than a design relying purely on
ionization. Id. However, the Alabama Supreme Court determined that the two
proposed alarm designs were different products even though they had an identical
purpose, and that, consequently, the plaintiff had not carried her burden of
demonstrating the existence of an alternative, safer design. Id. at 206–08; see also
Linegar, 909 F.2d at 1154–55 (finding that varying styles of bullet-proof vests
differing in the amount of coverage offered constituted different products);
Connally v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 86 F. Supp. 2d 1133, 1140 (S.D. Ala. 1999)
(explaining that evidence that safety guards were developed for certain types of
saws was insufficient to establish the existence of a design incorporating a guard
for the type of saw specifically at issue in the case). Just as in those cases, the
Ruger “old-model” single action revolver represents a distinct product with a
certain set of features targeted at a particular market of consumers, and Garrison
cannot rely on the existence of different products with safer designs to meet his
burden of establishing the availability of a “safer, practical, alternative design for
the allegedly defective product.” Hosford, 223 So. 3d at 208. Therefore, because
Garrison has failed to establish the availability of such a design for the Ruger “oldmodel” revolver at issue here, his AEMLD and negligence claims fail as a matter
B. Failure to Warn
Although largely abandoned in Garrison’s brief, his complaint also appears
to assert a failure-to-warn theory as part of his common law negligence claim. See
Turner v. Westhampton Court, L.L.C., 903 So. 2d 82, 90 (Ala. 2004) (explaining
that a “plaintiff has the option of alleging failure to warn as a matter of negligence
[or] under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine”).
either approach, “[p]roximate causation is an essential element of a prima facie
case of . . . failure to adequately warn.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Harris, 630 So.
2d 1018, 1030 (Ala. 1993). In other words, the plaintiff must show that the
defendant “failed to warn adequately of the dangers associated with the use of the
[product] and that its failure to do so proximately caused the injury.” Grose, 586
So. 2d at 198. Accordingly, a claim predicated on this theory “should not be
submitted to the jury unless there is substantial evidence that an adequate warning
would have been read and heeded and would have prevented the accident.” Id.
Additionally, “[w]here a warning is necessary, the warning need only be one that is
reasonable under the circumstances and it need not be the best possible warning.”
Gurley v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 505 So. 2d 358, 361 (Ala. 1987).10
Garrison’s failure to warn claim suffers from three flaws.
manufacturer is under “no duty to warn a user of every danger which may exist
during the use of the product, especially when such danger is open and obvious.”
Id. Indeed, when considering a similar drop-fire accident and a nearly identically
worded safety warning, the Alabama Supreme Court found that “the danger of
handling a firearm with a live cartridge chambered in line with the hammer and the
Moreover, “liability under the AEMLD is ‘obviated by an adequate warning.’”
Tillman, 871 So. 2d at 34 (quoting Casrell, 335 So. 2d at 133); see also Ladner v. Litespeed Mfg.
Co., No. 2:07-CV-1386-VEH, 2009 WL 10687865, at *14 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 24, 2009) (collecting
cases). In other words, “the substance of the affirmative defense of a warning under the AEMLD
is not distinct from the duty to warn [at common law].” Ex parte Chevron Chem. Co., 720 So.
2d 922, 926 (Ala. 1998). Here, there is strong evidence that Ruger provided such a warning
based on the language in the instruction manual. While Garrison suggests that this warning was
not adequate by modern standards, “the warning need only be one that is reasonable” not “the
best possible warning.” Gurley, 505 So. 2d at 361. In any event, Ruger need not avail itself of
this complete defense to AEMLD liability because of the court’s prior finding that the Ruger
“old-style” single-action was not defective.
firing pin without having first engaged the manual safety is self-evident.”
Burleson v. RSR Grp. Fla., Inc., 981 So. 2d 1109, 1114 (Ala. 2007). Moreover,
Garrison, just like the plaintiff in Burleson, was an experienced gun user and
should have known of the “self-evident” danger of handling a firearm “with a live
cartridge chambered in line with the hammer and the firing pin.” Id. at 1114.
Second, the court need not resolve whether the provided warning was
necessary or adequate, because Garrison did not read the instruction manual
containing the warning in the first instance. To submit a negligent failure-to-warn
claim to a jury, there must be “substantial evidence that the allegedly inadequate
warning would have been read and heeded.” Harris, 630 So. 2d at 1030; E.R.
Squibb & Sons, Inc. v. Cox, 477 So. 2d 963, 971 (Ala. 1985) (explaining that “a
plaintiff who does not read an allegedly inadequate warning cannot maintain a
negligent-failure-to adequately-warn action unless the nature of the alleged
inadequacy is such that it prevents him from reading it”). The undisputed evidence
is that Garrison, who acquired the revolver second-hand, neither read nor sought to
obtain the instruction manual, which was available both online and directly from
Ruger. See Docs. 37-2 at 4–5; 40 at 11; 41-1 at 33–34. In other words, this is not
an instance where the warnings in the instruction manual were so inadequate that
Garrison was unable to read or understand the warning. E.R. Squibb, 477 So. 2d at
971. And, Garrison does not otherwise argue that Ruger had a duty to ensure that
second-hand purchasers of the revolver received an instruction manual. Therefore,
Garrison cannot demonstrate, as a matter of law, that Ruger’s failure to warn was
the proximate cause of his accident.
Finally, even if the gun had come with a manual when Garrison acquired it,
the evidence suggests that Garrison would still have failed to read any included
warning. Indeed, Garrison only read the instruction manual for one of his 18 guns,
a Charles Daly 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun. Docs. 37-7 at 4–5; 41-1 at 33.
As for the other 17 firearms, Garrison neither read the provided manuals nor
sought out missing manuals if one was not provided at purchase. Id. at 31–35;
Doc. 37-7 at 4–5.
Garrison’s evidence mostly relates to the adequacy of the warning Ruger
included in its instruction manual and, at best, represents a “‘mere scintilla of
evidence in support’” of his failure-to-warn claim, which is insufficient “‘to
overcome a motion for summary judgment.’” Melton, 841 F.3d at 1219 (quoting
Young, 358 F.3d at 860). In light of this failure to produce evidence suggesting
that the danger here was not self-evident or that Garrison would have read, the
warnings provided by Ruger in the instruction manual, the allegedly inadequate
warning could not have proximately caused the accident. Accordingly, Garrison’s
failure-to-warn claim, to the extent it was not waived by his failure to brief it,11
fails as a matter of law.
C. Implied Warranty of Merchantability–Count III
Ruger argues that Garrison’s breach of the implied warranty of
merchantability claim (Count III) merges with his AEMLD claim,12 presenting an
unsettled question of Alabama law. Alabama law professes to recognize a clear
distinction between “causes of action arising under tort law and those arising under
the U.C.C. as adopted in Alabama.” Shell v. Union Oil Co., 489 So. 2d 569, 571
(Ala. 1986). In other words, an action premised on the breach of an implied
warranty of merchantability requires a resolution of the question of “[whether the
product was] fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.” Id. at
572 (quotation omitted) (alterations in original). When the plaintiff’s theory is
premised on a showing that a product is unreasonably dangerous, the claim is
“properly . . . raised [instead] in an action brought under Alabama’s Extended
Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine.” Id. at 571. However, the Alabama Supreme
Court has subsequently noted that “a claim alleging breach of an implied warranty
of merchantability is separate and distinct from an AEMLD claim and is viable to
See Marable v. Marion Military Inst., 906 F. Supp. 2d 1237, 1255–56 (S.D. Ala. 2012)
(explaining that “grounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are
deemed abandoned”) (quotation omitted).
“[T]o sustain a claim for breach of an implied warranty, [Garrison] must show ‘the
existence of the implied warranty, a breach of that warranty, and damages proximately resulting
from that breach.’” Bagley v. Mazda Motor Corp., 864 So. 2d 301, 315 (Ala. 2003) (quoting
Barrington Corp. v. Patrick Lumber Co., 447 So. 2d 785, 787 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984)).
redress an injury caused by an unreasonably dangerous product.” Spain v. Brown
& Williamson Tobacco Corp., 872 So. 2d 101, 112 (Ala. 2003).
determination appeared to turn on “a fact-intensive analysis” to assess whether, as
in the case of food products, the defectiveness inquiry overlaps with the question
of whether the product is fit for its ordinary use. Id. at 108, 109.
As the court understands these two aspects of Alabama law, when the
evidence shows that the product is so unreasonably dangerous that it is not fit for
its intended use, i.e., it is not a merchantable product, both AEMLD and warranty
claims remain viable. See, e.g., Wilson v. Kiddie Prods. Ltd., No. CV-10-BE3254-S, 2012 WL 3542210, at *10 (N.D Ala. Aug. 14, 2012) (explaining that when
determining “whether the breach of warranty claim is subsumed within the
AEMLD claim . . . the crucial question is whether evidence exists that the
[product] is not fit for its intended purpose”); Allen v. Delchamps, Inc., 624 So. 2d
1065, 1068 (Ala. 1993) (finding, in the context of food products, that an AEMLD
claim did not subsume a warranty claim because the question of whether the
“goods were . . . unfit for the ordinary purpose for which they [were] used” went
hand in hand with whether the goods were unreasonably dangerous for purposes of
the AEMLD). On the other hand, if the product is fit for its intended use, even if it
contains an inherent danger, the warranty claim, which is concerned only with the
commercial viability of the product, is subsumed by the AEMLD claim. See, e.g.,
Bodie v. Purdue Pharma Co., 236 F. App’x 511, 523 (11th Cir. 2007) (explaining
“courts applying Alabama law have seen fit to subsume U.C.C.-based breach of
implied warranty claims into tort and product liability claims, where the product is
fit for its intended use and there is no evidence of “non-merchantability” other than
a general allegation that the product contains inherent dangers”); Barnhill v. Teva
Pharms. USA, Inc., 819 F. Supp. 2d 1254, 1263 (S.D. Ala. 2011) (noting that “[i]n
general, Alabama law does not recognize a cause of action for breach of implied
warranty of merchantability for inherently dangerous products”).
Venturing now into this thicket, it is evident from the record that the Ruger
“old-model” single-action revolver was a merchantable product, despite the
inherent danger posed by its lack of a “passive” safety. As extensively explained
above, Garrison has failed to prove that the product was defective, contained a
manufacturing flaw, or posed any unusual danger while being loaded and fired.
Instead, he argues only that the gun was unsafe due the drop-fire hazard it posed.
To have a separate U.C.C. merchantability claim, however, Garrison must present
evidence indicating that the Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver did not
operate precisely as intended, aside from the inherent dangers associated with the
While Alabama law is less than clear with respect to what constitutes an
unmerchantable product, that is a product that is not “fit for the ordinary purposes
for which such goods are used,” it is evident that Alabama courts have combined
the AEMLD concept of unreasonable danger with the doctrine of “fitness for the
ordinary purpose intended” under the U.C.C. See Ex parte Gen. Motors Corp., 769
So. 2d 903, 912–913 (Ala. 1999) (quotations omitted). Again, the heart of the
distinction between these two causes of action is that when the breach of implied
warranty claim is “to the effect that the [product] was unreasonably dangerous and
therefore could not be merchantable,” the claim falls under the AEMLD.
Yarbrough v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 628 So. 2d 478, 483 (Ala. 1993).13 On the
other hand, the Alabama Supreme Court has found a distinct violation of the
implied warranty of merchantability when the plaintiff could not use the product as
intended, regardless of a showing of “danger.” See, e.g., Ex parte Gen. Motors,
769 So. 2d at 905–06, 913–14 (explaining that evidence that the plaintiff’s car
stalled repeatedly while in use was sufficient to prove a breach of the implied
warranty even without a showing of defectiveness); Volkswagen of Am., Inc. v.
Dillard, 579 So. 2d 1301, 1302–03, 1307 (Ala. 1991) (explaining that evidence
For example, in Yarbrough, the claim involved a heater designed for use with kerosene
which exploded when the plaintiff fueled it with gasoline instead. 628 So. 2d at 479–80. Even
though the plaintiff presented evidence indicating that a simple design modification would have
prevented the explosion, id. at 482, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the risk inherent in
use of the product did not sound under the U.C.C., because the heater “[w]hen . . . used properly
. . . [met] an ordinary consumer’s expectation by heating the house.” Id. at 481. The court
rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the inherent danger posed by the use of the wrong fuel
rendered the product unmerchantable. Id. at 481, 483.
that a car continuously stalled and failed to properly accelerate was evidence of a
breach of the implied warranty of merchantability).
The numerous federal courts to address the issue have also recognized this
common sense distinction. See, e.g., Collins v. Novartis Pharms. Corp., No. 2:08cv-438-MHT-PWG, 2015 WL 178157, at *7 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 14, 2015 ) adopted in
relevant part by Collins v. Novartis Pharms., Corp., No. 2:08-cv-438-MHT, 2015
WL 2183700 (M.D. Ala. May 11, 2015) (recognizing that “in almost every case, a
claim of an alleged breach of implied warranty of merchantability under the UCC
is subsumed by [the] AEMLD except for a theoretical possibility which has only
been applied on summary judgment to the consumption of food products and
never to . . . products with another consumer use beyond consumption”); Houston
v. Bayer Healthcare Pharms., Inc., 16 F. Supp. 3d 1341, 1346–47 (N.D. Ala. 2014)
(explaining that under Alabama law “the commercial code creates only
commercial warranties, not safety warranties” and that consequently, so long as the
product achieves its function the U.C.C. is not breached regardless of other harm
caused by the product); Barnhill, 819 F. Supp. 2d at 1263 (noting that evidence
dealing with the “inherent dangers” associated with product use is insufficient to
support a breach of implied warranty claim independently from an AEMLD
claim). In other words, when “there is no evidence of ‘non-merchantability,’ other
than a general allegation that the product contains inherent dangers,” the U.C.C.
claim fails. Bodie, 236 F. App’x at 523–24 (concluding that plaintiff’s claim that
OxyContin was unreasonably dangerous and was therefore not of merchantable
quality was not cognizable under Alabama law as a distinct claim for breach of the
implied warranty of merchantability).
To get around this unfavorable precedent, Garrison cites Wilson v. Kiddie
Products, Ltd. for the proposition that his AEMLD and breach of the implied
warranty claims go hand in hand.
However, Wilson is inapposite because it
presented a jury question on whether the product at issue was fit for its ordinary
use. See Wilson, 2012 WL 3542210, at *10. Under the facts in Wilson, the court
found that there was a dispute regarding the purpose of the product at issue, and,
accordingly, a jury question existed regarding whether the product was fit for that
purpose, whatever it might be. Id. In this instance, however, Garrison has failed to
show that the Ruger “old-model” single-action revolver was not fit for ordinary use
as a firearm, or that it was otherwise incapable of carrying out its expected, routine
functions. Instead, his theory, supported by his expert’s ipse dixit assertion of
commercial unsuitability, doc. 41-3 at 9,14 is that the weapon has an inherent defect
rendering it unreasonably dangerous. Doc. 40 at 32. Even if that were the case,
Garrison’s expert states that: “a modern designed and manufactured revolver that will
fire without pulling the trigger is not fit for its ordinary intended purpose.” Doc. 41-3 at 9. This
conclusion is not supported by any factual evidence with respect to the commercial purpose of
the firearm, and whether it was fit for that purpose. As such, the court does not grant this legal
conclusion any weight because “[a] witness . . . may not testify to the legal implications of
conduct.” Montgomery v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 898 F.2d 1537, 1541 (11th Cir. 1990).
Garrison cannot prevail on a breach of implied warranty claim without some
showing that the subject firearm was not fit for its intended purpose, and there is
no basis to draw such a conclusion on the record before the court. Accordingly,
the court finds that Garrison’s claim for the breach of the implied warranty of
merchantability is subsumed by his AEMLD claim.15
D. Wantonness and Punitive Damages
The parties agree that punitive damages are only available in a civil tort
action in Alabama if “it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the
defendant consciously or deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness or
malice with regard to the plaintiff.” Ala. Code. § 6-11-20(a). As relevant here,
Garrison’s requests for punitive damages turn on his wantonness claim, which,
although not asserted as a separate count, appears in several places in the
Wantonness is “[c]onduct which is carried on with a reckless or
conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Ala. Code § 6-11-20(b)(3).
In other words, wantonness is “the conscious doing of some act or the omission of
Moreover, there is Alabama law, in the context of allergic reactions to medical drugs,
supporting the position that “a product must adversely affect at least some significant number of
persons before a question of ‘merchantability’ arises.” Griggs v. Combe, Inc., 456 So. 2d 790,
793 (Ala. 1984); see also Pearl v. Mad Engine, Inc., No. 7:12-cv-2850-TMP, 2015 WL 5179517,
at *6–7 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 4, 2015) (applying Griggs outside of the medical context to find that
there must be a showing of unsuitability “in some number of instances” before the implied
warranty of merchantability is breached). Here, the evidence shows that a total of four similar
accidents were reported to Ruger between 1953 and 1969. Docs. 40 at 30; 42 at 8–9. By then,
Ruger had sold over 800,000 of its “old-style” single-action revolver. Doc. 37-2 at 14. This
evidence falls short of establishing the adverse impact on a “significant” number of people
necessary to raise a question of merchantability.
some duty while knowing of the existing conditions and being conscious that, from
doing or omitting to do an act, injury will likely or probably result.” Ex parte
Essary, 992 So. 2d 5, 9 (Ala. 2007) (emphasis original); see also Ex parte
Capstone Bldg. Corp., 96 So. 3d 77, 85 (Ala. 2012) (explaining that wantonness
requires an “act done or omitted with knowledge of the probable consequence and
with reckless disregard of such consequence”). Importantly, wantonness is not
simply a more extreme form of negligence; it is a “qualitatively different tort
concept.” Ferguson v. Baptist Health Sys., Inc., 910 So. 2d 85, 92 (Ala. 2005)
Garrison’s wantonness argument is essentially that Ruger knew about the
drop-fire hazard based on reports of at least four similar incidents prior to 1969,
and its own internal testing conducted in 1971. Docs. 40 at 17–18, 30; 42 at 8–9.
Garrison also cites the existence of “passive” safeties capable of preventing dropfire incidents in other types of weapons, arguing that, despite its awareness that its
“old-model” single-action revolver lacked such protections, Ruger continued
production of the firearm anyway.
This argument fails for two independent
First, Garrison has failed to show, as he must, that his injuries would “likely
or probably” result from Ruger’s actions or omissions. Essary, 992 So. 2d at 9.
Based on the four reports of drop-fire accidents received by Ruger in 1969, less
than 0.0005 percent of “old-model” single-action revolvers produced at the time
were reportedly involved in incidents similar to the one experienced by Garrison.
Docs. 37-2 at 14; 40 at 30; 42 at 10. Even considering all 307 reports Ruger has
received to date, only 0.02 percent of the total number of “old-model” singleaction revolvers sold by the company have been involved in incidents similar to the
one at issue here. Docs. 40 at 18–19; 37-2 at 4. As the Eleventh Circuit applying
Alabama law has held, when the “actual incidence” of a particular risk is
“probably slightly less than one percent,” it does not qualify as a likely event for
purposes of a finding of wantonness. Toole v. McClintock, 999 F.2d 1430, 1435
(11th Cir. 1993) (Toole I) (emphasis in original). Based on this record, it is evident
that the injury suffered by Garrison was not sufficiently likely or probable for
Ruger’s failure to alter the design of its “old-model” single-action revolver to
qualify as wanton.
Garrison resists this conclusion by arguing that the Alabama Supreme Court
has previously found that evidence of two similar drop-fire accidents was sufficient
to submit a wanton design claim to the jury. Savage Indus., Inc. v. Duke, 598 So.
2d 856, 859 (Ala. 1992). However, that decision is readily distinguishable. The
plaintiff in Duke presented evidence showing that the manufacturer conducted
internal testing prior to the plaintiff’s accident, and “had subsequently added a
second safety to adult model shotguns in 1970 but had not added a second safety in
the youth model shotguns until 1979.” Id. at 856–57. The plaintiff’s accident
occurred using a youth shotgun without the additional safety and purchased years
after the manufacturer had begun adding a second safety to its adult model
The court does not read Duke as contradicting the threshold
probability requirement established by the Eleventh Circuit in Toole I. Instead,
Duke turned on the evidence showing that the manufacturer took particular actions
to alleviate a recognized danger and neglected to uniformly apply those changes to
all the firearms posing a danger. Here, there is no evidence that Ruger made any
changes to its “old-model” single-action revolver until 1973 when it first
developed a “passive” safety for use on the product and uniformly employed the
new design in its revolvers. On this record, the court declines to find that Garrison
has put forward sufficient evidence to meet his minimal burden of showing that his
injury was more than one percent likely.
Second, even if Ruger knew that manufacturing the Ruger “old-style”
single-action was likely to result in the injuries suffered by Garrison, his
wantonness claim for punitive damages still fails. The Eleventh Circuit, when
applying Alabama law, has “repeatedly held that the issue of punitive damages
should not go to the jury when a manufacturer takes steps to warn the plaintiff of
the potential danger that injured him; such acts bar a finding of wantonness.”
Richards v. Michelin Tire Corp., 21 F.3d 1048, 1059 (11th Cir. 1994). In other
words, even when the manufacturer “could have done or said more,” the presence
of a warning outlining the risk of harm shows “‘regard for [consumers] of [the
product] and cannot be viewed as wanton’ . . . as defined by Alabama law.” Toole
v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 235 F.3d 1307, 1317 (11th Cir. 2000) ( Toole II)
(quoting Toole I, 999 F.2d at 1436); see also Scharff v. Wyeth, No. 2:10-cv-220WKW, 2012 WL 3149248, at *9 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 1, 2012) (explaining that
“[u]nder Toole [I] all that is required is a warning that does not evidence
indifference toward safety” regardless of whether the warning “could have been
broader [or] stronger”). Garrison has not provided the court with any contrary case
law on this point, and has otherwise offered no argument casting doubt on the
continuing validity of this line of precedent. Accordingly, the court is “bound by
[its] governing appellate court’s construction of state law unless later state court
decisions indicate that the Court of Appeals’ earlier prediction of state law was in
error.” Estate of Miller ex. rel. Miller v. Thrifty Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc., 609 F.
Supp. 2d 1235, 1249–50 (M.D. Fla. 2009) (quotation omitted).
The undisputed evidence is that Ruger provided an instruction manual with
each of the “old-model” single-action revolvers it sold. Doc. 37-2 at 3. That
manual, in a “special note,” explained to users that “certain precautions should be
observed in the interests of safety,” and warned users that if the gun is carried with
the hammer resting on the firing pin and a loaded cartridge in the chamber aligned
with the barrel, “a light accidental blow on the hammer can readily cause the gun
to discharge.” Id. at 10. The manual also suggests that carrying the revolver with
only five chambers loaded and aligning the barrel with an empty chamber was a
safe method for carrying the gun preferred by “[m]any users.” Id. Also, even
though Ruger no longer produces the “old-model” single-action revolver, similar
safety warnings appear on the company’s website, and the company continues to
make an instruction manual for the weapon available upon request. Id. at 4–5.
While the parties debate the efficacy of the manual’s safety note, and it is apparent
that Ruger could have provided a more strident warning, the fact that a message
pointing out the exact risk of harm suffered by Garrison is reflected in the manual
“bar[s] a finding of wantonness.” Richards, 21 F.3d at 1059.
For the foregoing reasons, Ruger’s motion for summary judgment, doc. 37,
is due to be granted.
And, for the reasons already discussed, Connie Sue
Garrison’s derivative claim for loss of consortium is also due to be dismissed. A
Final Judgment will be entered separately.
DONE the 12th day of June, 2018.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?