I was approached by a local attorney from Barbourville, KY. The Plaintiff, Mr. Mason, had been injured in the right eye by a piece ejected from a Hi-Point pistol while firing at the range. He had not been wearing eye protection. The attorney needed a firearms manufacture expert and an expert in firearms design. After looking at a few documents related to the case, I accepted it.
I drove to Barbourville to see the pistol and talk to Mr. Mason and the attorney. What I saw put me in shock. The surgeons had saved Mason’s right eye. But the lens was gone and the iris was badly damaged. His iris was blue-green and the damage had left it as a vertical split, just like a snake. If one did not already know that Mason was human, his appearance would cause one to think otherwise. He told me that people, such as cashiers in a check out aisle, would physically recoil upon looking at him. He told me he did not want the eye replaced with a glass eye because he could still see night and day, and could see peripheral movement. He felt safer driving that way.
My examination of the pistol was even more shocking. Most semi-automatic pistols have a moving steel part called a slide. The front of the slide supports the barrel. The slide moves to the rear to extract and eject the fired cartridge case; and then moves forward to pick up the next live round and put it into the chamber in preparation for the next shot. The rear area of the slide has the cartridge head seat; a flat, steel surface that supports the cartridge in the barrel. It also holds the extractor, firing pin and firing pin spring. The frame of the pistol has the hammer which; when the trigger is pulled, swings up, hits the rear of the slide and the firing pin, and drives the firing pin forward which; in turn, hits the primer and fires the pistol
Upon examining the slide, I found a hole, right in the middle of the cartridge head seat, like a sinkhole in the middle of a street in Florida. This hole was the diameter of the primer and extended all the way back through the slide. The firing pin and firing pin spring were missing. A search of the ground weeks after the incident turned up nothing and the surgeon had found “pieces of metal” in Mr. Mason’s eye (most likely pieces of the primer) but had thrown them away.
The primer is a separate assembly which is inserted into the rear of the cartridge case. Upon being hit by the firing pin, the primer compound combusts in a near explosion, sending flame from the primer pocket through a “flash hole” into the main cavity of the cartridge case, which holds the propellant powder. The propellant then burns as a deflagrant, generating gases under very high pressure which, in turn, propels the bullet down the barrel and out the muzzle. Some of the high pressure gases come back through the flash hole into the primer pocket. But the primer is held in place by the cartridge head seat and the firing pin remains embedded in the primer to further support it, until the bullet exits the muzzle and the pressure in the barrel drops to one atmosphere.
In this instance, the primer pushed backwards, due to the gas pressure coming back through the flash hole, and simply pushed a hole through the cartridge head seat. The primer than pushed everything before it, tore more metal out of the slide, and sent the broken metal, the firing pin, and the firing pin spring all flying at the shooter. Yes, the shooter should have been wearing eye protection, but that does not excuse the firearm.
I did not need the missing parts. I knew that Hi-Point had been failing. They had clearly assembled a final few pistols from stuff laying about the plant. This was clearly bad manufacture in that the slide had not been heat treated in order to make it harder and stronger. Further, the pistol was a bad and unsafe design in that there was no fail safe to retain the firing pin within the pistol, in the event of a pierced primer or other malfunction.
A company named Beemiller had bought the remnants of the old Hi Point company. They fought bitterly and the case was removed to Federal Court. In Cleveland, the firm of Lowe, Eklund, & Wakefield took the case. The defendant brought in a series of 3 experts. When the 3rd expert came in to examine the pistol; Gregory Scott of Lowe, Eklund had me come to Cleveland to observe. In observing the 3rd defense expert examine the subject pistol, I thought I saw him roll his eyes in disgust.
I explained everything as shown above to Mr. Scott and then helped him craft interrogatories and RPOD’s. We hit Beemiller for quality control records, records from the heat treatment section along with their heat treat procedures, the manufacturing drawings, the drawings for all the holding fixtures and cutting tools, the names of all designers and machinists, and plenty more.
A little less than two weeks after Mr. Scott served the discovery, Beemiller settled.
I have lost track of Mr. Mason.
Mr. Scott is still with Lowe, Eklund, is moving up in the firm, and has an impressive record of financial justice for his clients.
Beemiller kept producing Hi-Point pistols but the design now shows changes for firing pin retention. Critical parts on new pistols now show “proof” marks, indicating that the part has gone through heat treatment.
For once, the system worked, not only for Mr. Mason, but also for all future buyers of Hi Point products.