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Family Sues Gun Shop, Gun Makers

The family of a Springfield, Vt., man who died when a revolver he accidentally dropped fired a bullet that struck him in the head has sued the shop where he purchased the weapon and several gun manufacturers, claiming a faulty safety mechanism allowed the discharge.

The estate of Edward Davis, 39, who died in 2010 while trying to show the revolver to his mother, is seeking compensation from the Alstead Gun Shop and various firearms companies, alleging he was sold a defective product.

In an interview, Ed Van Dorn, the Davis family’s attorney, said that Davis is not to blame for the incident. Van Dorn said it is relatively common for people to drop guns — he cited a New Hampshire lawmaker who dropped his concealed firearm during a legislative hearing in 2012 — without having them fire.

“This happens — people drop guns,” Van Dorn said. “It’s a known risk that people drop guns, and it’s an easy risk to protect against with an operating safety mechanism. Even though he dropped the gun ... we believe the standards of manufacturing require them to accommodate that risk .”

Davis’ mother, Ruth, the executor of his estate, is seeking unspecified compensatory damages for medical expenses, physical and mental suffering, loss of wages, funeral expenses and other claims in the lawsuit, which was filed in Cheshire Superior Court in Keene.

The lawsuit features 10 claims, including negligence, breach of warranty and misrepresentation of the gun’s safety, and focuses on a hammer block that failed to prevent the gun from firing. The gun has been identified in court papers as a Uberti Regulator SAA Revolver, which was modeled on old Colt revolvers, Van Dorn said.

In court filings, the gun shop has denied all the allegations, and said the gun was not defective or “unreasonably dangerous.”

“The injuries/damages alleged in plaintiff’s complaint resulted from misuse, abuse, and or unintended or unforseeable use of the product,” the gun shop’s attorney, William Smart, of Manchester, wrote in a recent filing.

A message left at the gun shop was not returned, and Smart did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

The Davis estate also sued several gun manufacturers, whom they say may have had a role in designing, manufacturing and bringing the revolver to the market, including Uberti, American Arms Inc., Stoeger Industries Inc., Beretta U.S.A., and Benelli U.S.A. Corp.

Tests of the firearm, which will help determine its origin and other characteristics, are still pending, Van Dorn said in the interview, and some of those companies may eventually be dismissed from the case.

The gun manufacturers have not designated attorneys to represent them, according to the court file.

The lawsuit comes as firearm safety and gun rights continue to be a national topic of conversation. In the interview, Van Dorn said that he has long been skeptical of gun supporters’ claim that people are safer when they are armed.

“I’m not a believer in the widespread dissemination of guns, especially handguns,” Van Dorn said. “I like the idea of holding (the firearms industry) to task when we can.”

Davis saved for weeks at his $9 an hour job to be able to afford the $400 gun, according to the lawsuit.

The court filings give the following account of Davis’ death.

On March 20, 2010, he visited the gun shop, where owner Robert Adams or another employee told him that the revolver was “reconditioned and/or refurbished and was in good working condition,” according to the lawsuit.

Davis put down a deposit and filled out paperwork for a required federal background check.

Two days later, Adams dropped the gun off at his house. Two days after that, Davis called his mother, asking her to come over and see the gun, which was at least partially loaded. She brought dessert along with her, lawyers said.

While she sat in his living room, David went into his bedroom to grab the gun. He dropped it to the floor; it fired and hit him in the head.

Ruth Davis dashed into the room, and saw her son bleeding from the head.

“She’s devastated and heartbroken,” Van Dorn said .

The revolver Davis purchased had one safety mechanism, a spring-loaded hammer block that was supposed to block the firing pin from striking the back of the cartridge, to prevent an accidental discharge, according to the lawsuit.

The safety mechanism only works when the revolver is in the one-quarter cocked position: When the revolver is un-cocked, half-cocked, or fully-cocked, the block is designed to not function.

While more extensive firearms testing is pending, the Davis family made two claims in the lawsuit: That the safety mechanism was defective, and that even if it was working properly, it was inadequate to prevent the gun from firing when dropped, according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, the Alstead Gun Shop should have fixed the defect or explained its shortcomings to Davis, the lawsuit asserts.

A court hearing has not been scheduled in the case.

While unusual, the Davis family’s claims are not novel. In 2009, a jury ordered a gun manufacturer to pay an Alabama man $1.25 million after he was shot and severely wounded by a handgun that he dropped to the floor.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.