United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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). 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 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 granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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”).
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).
The Accident of September 21, 2014
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.
The Mechanical Operation of the Revolver and Alternative
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
“top-break” 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
AEMLD and Negligence Design Claims-Count I and
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”). To 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).
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). 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”)
“‘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
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.
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”). 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).
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 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.
Did the Subject Revolver Meet the Reasonable Safety
Expectations of an Ordinary Consumer in 1969
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 ...