San Diego Shooter v. Everybody

This case involved a fellow shooting (plinking) out in the desert with a civilian legal semi-automatic version of the AK-47.

While shooting, a fragment hit him in the eye, which he lost.  He got some attorneys and they sued everyone.

The case is remarkable in that the plaintiff expert was a guy named Lama S. Martin.  Martin had been a technician at the old H.P. White Lab ( a firearms testing lab back when things were crude and analog).  Martin left the lab and turned against the industry.  He teamed up with a computer guy (this case was 1992).  They worked for plaintiffs only, and did computer “simulations” of firearms injury incidents.  They were coining money to the point where they began taking percentages along with the plaintiff attorneys.

The industry had had enough of Lama Martin.  Even though Century International (St. Albans, VT) had imported the rifle from Romania, and the ammunition had been imported from Russia (produced in either the old Soviet plant at Barnaul or at Tula; our civilian arms imports have kept the Russian and Chinese small arms factories hot, but that is another story), the industry put together a defense fund.

The defense needed an interior ballistics expert; coupled with a firearms and ammunition design, metallurgy and function expert.  The call came to me and I flew to San Diego.

I had read the documents.  The plaintiff and witnesses clearly stated that they had been in the desert for recreational shooting.  They had placed some cans and bottles on a piece of steel railroad rail and the plaintiff was shooting from the “Rambo position”.   I figured out that the guy had been shooting from the hip and guiding his fire by the stream of bullets on the ground.  And he had not been wearing shooting glasses (clearly this guy had deep seated feelings of inadequacy and was trying to impress his wife and buddies).

Other than the rifle, some unfired cartridges, and a  fragment removed from the shooter’s eye; there was no other physical evidence.  Martin had conjured up this fantastical computer cartoon showing a fragment coming out of the rifle mechanism area and careening back into the shooter’s eye.  Martin claimed that the cartridge case had ruptured or separated and that a piece from from the cartridge case is what did the damage.

After viewing the physical evidence, I was to be deposed.  We had a long defense conference beforehand.  I follow attorneys instructions as to how to handle a deposition.  When instructed, I can be about as forthcoming as a stone buddha or as Bill Belichek at a news conference.  But this time, the attorneys wanted to destroy Martin.  They wanted not a jury verdict, but a public pre-trial document that would discredit Martin to other potential plaintiff attorneys.

The deposition was long and bitter.  I walked a fine line in explaining interior ballistics and the design and function of cartridge cases and firearms.  I used proper terminology and explained in some detail.  But the plaintiff attorneys did not know much and did not ask correct follow up questions, so I did not serve to educate Martin.  I also stated that the injury was a blowback from the railroad iron.

Though I did not fully explain in the deposition, a bullet impacting steel decelerates so rapidly that the resulting heat turns the bullet, and the steel, at the boundary of the impact, into a liquid front.  As the bullet continues further into the impact crater, the liquid rounds the crater bottom and comes flying back.  As it does, it cools and passes the solidus point, now becoming a solid again.  It was this solid which took the plaintiff’s eye.

For the defense attorneys, I explained, in full detail, all the terms in the deposition, including the blowback.  Thus armed, the attorneys held tough in settlement negotiations.  After a few more weeks of wrangling, the plaintiff settled for some medical insurance deductible costs.

Lama Martin never again took percentages.  He testified in a few more cases, mostly criminal cases wherein he blamed the crime on a firearms or ammunition failure.  His last case, 2001, was the Brazill case in Florida.  In this case, Martin defended a student who shot and killed his teacher.  Brazill claimed he had been suspended and was angry, but that he just pulled the gun out and pointed it at the teacher.  Then, Brazill said, the gun “just went off”.  Martin concocted some scenario claiming the gun did just unintentionally “go off”.  Brazill was convicted of murder.  His release date from prison is 2028.

Lama Martin went to his reward in 2016.