O'Neal v. Remington Arms Co., LLC, No. 14-2883 (8th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Remington manufactured O’Neal’s Model 700 .243 caliber bolt-action rifle in 1971, using the “Walker trigger.” As early as 1979, Remington knew that the Walker trigger can cause the rifles to fire a round when the safety lever is released to the fire position, without the trigger being pulled, because of the manner in which components of the trigger mechanism interact. Remington estimated that at least 20,000 rifles would inadvertently fire merely by releasing the safety, but decided against a recall. O'Neal, deer hunting with friends, loaned his Remington Model 700 to Ritter. The hunters were traveling in a pickup truck when they spotted a deer. After the pickup stopped, Ritter began to exit the truck and moved the safety lever on the rifle to the fire position without pulling the trigger. The rifle discharged. The cartridge traveled through the pickup seat and hit O’Neal, who eventually died from the gunshot. The gun had had three owners; it had been loaned out several times. In a suit by O’Neal’s widow, the court granted Remington summary judgment on grounds that O'Neal could not show whether the alleged defect existed at the time of manufacture or resulted from subsequent modification. The Eighth Circuit reversed: South Dakota law permits a plaintiff to prove a product defect through circumstantial evidence. O'Neal presented sufficient circumstantial evidence to show the alleged defect was present at the time of manufacture and did not result from an alteration.