Long Island Shooter v. Everybody

This case involved an M-1896 Swedish rifle chambered for the 6,5x55mm Swedish cartridge.  The rifle had been legally imported into the USA and properly placed in the stream of commerce.  The Plaintiff had been firing the rifle on a range when it “exploded” and injured the shooter.  He lawyered up and sued everybody they could think of, even the operator of the range.  Some pre-trial work had been done and the Plaintiff had gotten some minor money from the insurance carrier for the range.

Some of the defendants and defendant’s attorneys called me.  They despearately needed an interior ballistics expert and also an expert in firearm design and firearm manufacture.  I looked at some documentation and took the case.  I drove to Long Island, NY, and met with the defending attorneys.

We had supper and I gave the attorneys an orientation on interior ballistics; including the pressure-distance curve, the manner of function of modern, deflagrant propellant powders and so forth.  The next day, we went to see the rifle.

I was stunned.  The top of the receiver ring (this part of the rifle holds the barrel and the locking mechanism together at the moment of discharge) was blown off, the barrel was swollen and burst at the chamber, the receiver was twisted and distorted, the magazine (the part at the bottom of the rifle which holds the cartridges which are next in line to fire) had been violently blown down, the stock was split; and the bolt had sheared loose, and only Swedish metallurgy and the bolt handle jamming into the receiver bridge had kept the bolt from coming back through the shooter’s head.  The shooter had been shooting from a bench, with the foreend on a sandbag and he had both hands back near the trigger.  Had he been holding the rifle with his left hand, his hand would have been shredded, or perhaps even lost by his forearm being severed.  This guy was lucky.

The remnants of the cartridge case were melted and pressure welded to the twisted pieces of steel.  This all added up to a massive “pressure excursion” (that is an industry term).  Even if one filled the cartridge case with a fast burning pistol propellant, the pressures would have been high, and there would have been some damage; but nothing like this.  The only way that this happened was there was an obstruction in the barrel (contrary to Hollywood, one cannot shoot an obstruction out of a barrel).

I unloaded my truck and set up in the plaintiff attorney’s conference room.  This included furniture pads, work slab with a vice, measuring instruments, camera equipment, and a video borescope.  There were no laptops at the time so this was a full up mini-tower with keyboard, mouse and a cathode ray tube monitor.  As I was hooking up all the wires and getting the borescope ready (read a colonoscope for rifles) I heard a plaintiff guy mutter “We’re in trouble.”.

I did a thorough scoping of the barrel, took mesurements, took photographs (including macro-photography) and screen shots, and so forth.  There was almost a shoving match as the plaintiff people kept gathering around me and getting behind me, and the defense people kept pushing them back.  After I finished, we covered everything with a furniture pad, left a defense guy on guard, and retired to a separate room where we discussed things.

Using the plaintiff’s statements, I explained that he had handloaded his ammunition, had a misfire, ejected the old cartridge case and fired another round, without checking the barrel for obstruction.  The borescope had clearly shown where the barrel had bulged, on the inside, at the point where the new bullet ran into the old bullet, which was still in the barrel.

Numerous times in the explanations, as the defense guys made notes, we went back to the rifle and I silently pointed to what I had just been explaining.  The plaintiff guys pushed in so hard, we had a couple of our paralegals hold up a furniture pad to obstruct their view.  It took a couple hours of explanation, viewing and note taking; but the defense attorneys thoroughly understood the engineering, and how it hppened.  They were ready to fight.

I broke my gear down and hauled it out to my truck.  The attorneys on both sides went into a mutual huddle.  By the time I was hoisting the last of three trolly loads of gear into my truck, the lead defense attorney came out.  He told me the plaintiff settled for the attorney fees not covered by the first insurance carrier, plus $19 dollars for a new pair of shooting glasses for the plaintiff.

I think that is a check mark in the “W” column.