Smith v. Bryco
On January 29, 1993, 14-year-old Sean Smith, 15-year-old Michael Emmett, 16-year-old Brian Romero, and 15-year-old D.J. Valencia were playing with a firearm Michael had bought, a J-22 handgun. When the gun was passed to D.J., he pulled the trigger and unintentionally shot Sean as Sean was talking on the telephone, hitting him in the mouth and severely injuring him.
Michael had the magazine in his pocket, but the gun was loaded. Sean, D.J., and Brian testified that they thought the gun was unloaded and would not fire with the magazine out. They also testified that they did not realize that a bullet could remain in the chamber even though the magazine had been removed.
With Brady’s representation, the Smiths filed a complaint against Bryco, the manufacturer of the J-22, and Jennings, the distributor. The complaint alleged that Bryco and Jennings were liable in strict products liability and negligence for manufacturing and distributing a defective from inadequate warning and failure to incorporate safety devices into the J-22’s design. The theories were predicated upon the fact that the J-22 handgun did not incorporate a “magazine-out safety,” a “chamber load indicator,” or a written warning on the gun itself alerting users that the J-22 can fire even though the magazine has been removed.
Both defendants filed for summary judgment. The trial court granted these motions, but Brady appealed and secured an important victory. In a precedent-setting decision, the New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal. Instead, it found that gun industry defendants can be found liable for strict products liability and negligence for manufacturing and distributing defective products.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in ruling that Bryco and Jennings were not negligent because they had no duty to incorporate the safety features described in the complaint; whether the trial court erred in ruling that the J-22 does not present an unreasonable risk of injury for purposes of strict liability; and that the Smiths came forward with evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact that the failure to incorporate the safety features was a proximate cause of Sean’s injury.
With this reversal, the New Mexico Court of Appeals and Brady paved the way for future products liability lawsuits against gun dealers and manufacturers for any future victims who may be harmed by a firearm.