In a closely watched case, a Federal Appeals Court has reversed a decision from a lower court, which threw out an expert’s opinion because the court said it was unreliable. The case, Seamon v. Remington Arms Company, LLC, is a tragic case surrounding the mysterious death of the plaintiff’s husband who was shot by his own Remington Model 700 rifle. The decedent, Mr. Seamon, went deer hunting and when he didn’t return, his family went looking for him and found him dead in his elevated tree stand with a single gunshot wound to his chest. Mr. Seamon’s Remington Model 700 rifle was found on the ground thirteen feet below attached to a rope that wrapped around the rifle’s scope and safety. The safety mechanism was off and there was a spent cartridge in the chamber, but there was no gunshot residue on Mr. Seamon’s body or clothing, leading law enforcement to conclude that the rifle was at least five to ten feet away from Mr. Seamon when it fired. Moreover, Mr. Seamon’s left hand was clenched around the front rail of the tree stand and his right hand was positioned as if he had been grasping something. The obvious question was how was Mr. Seamon shot?
Mrs. Seamon, the plaintiff, alleged that her husband died when the rifle accidently discharged because of defects with the trigger system. The Remington Model 700 contains the Walker fire control system, which is different than other trigger systems in that even a very slight movement of one of the parts allows the rifle to fire accidently. According to Ms. Seamon’s expert, Mr. Powell, rifles with Walker triggers have fired unexpectedly a number of times in testing reported by Remington Arms. According to Mr. Powell, little things like dirt, corrosion deposits, moisture, firing deposits and manufacturing residue can prevent the trigger parts from engaging correctly, making the rifle subject to unexpected firing. During testing, Mr. Powell found particles and deposits in the fire control housing, which he said have been show to cause interference in the Walker system and cause rifles to fire without interaction with the trigger. Mr. Powell concluded that the rifle might have gone off unexpectedly when it came into contact with the tree, rope or the ground.
The trial court struck Mr. Powell’s opinion as to why the Remington Model 700 discharged, because it said that his opinion was “speculative” and therefore, unreliable, and dismissed Ms. Seamon’s lawsuit against Remington. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and reinstated the case. The appellate court concluded that Mr. Powell had provided sufficient factual support for his opinion and that the trial court had “manifestly erred by mischaracterizing Powell’s opinion and the evidence supporting it . . . .”
Seamon v. Remington Arms Company, LLC demonstrates once again how complicated the law can be, and how important it is to have on your side experienced and knowledgeable legal representation like the lawyers at Oxner + Permar ,PLLC. If you find yourself with a complicated legal question, call us and take advantage of our decades of legal experience. You will be glad you did!