Halliday v. Sturm, Ruger & Co.

792 A.2d 1145 (2002)

Quick Summary

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Halliday (plaintiff) sued Sturm Ruger & Co. (defendant) after Jordan Garris, a three-year-old, accidentally shot himself with a Ruger P89 handgun that lacked child-proof safety features.

The issue was whether the gun’s design was defectively dangerous under a risk-utility analysis or consumer expectation test.

The Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that the gun was not defectively designed as it operated as intended and Garris’s misuse of the firearm could not be reasonably foreseen by the manufacturer.

Facts of the Case

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In June 1999, three-year-old Jordan Garris tragically shot and killed himself while playing with his father’s handgun. The handgun in question was a Ruger P89 semi-automatic pistol, purchased by Jordan’s father, Clifton Garris, in March 1999 from On Target, Inc., a retail firearms store. With the purchase, Garris received an instruction manual, an offer of a free safety course (which he declined), a pamphlet titled ‘Youth Handgun Safety Act Notice’ published by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a lock box for storing the gun and magazine, and a padlock for the box.

The instruction manual contained multiple warnings about safely storing firearms away from children and irresponsible adults and emphasized that firearms should be stored unloaded. Despite these warnings, Garris stored the gun under his mattress with the loaded magazine on a nearby bookshelf, making both items accessible to Jordan. Jordan found the gun and magazine, learned how to assemble them by watching television, and accidentally shot himself in the head, dying two days later.

Halliday filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Sturm Ruger, claiming that the gun was defectively designed because it lacked child-proof safety features such as a grip safety, a heavy trigger-pull, or other child-resistant devices. She argued for the application of a ‘risk-utility’ analysis rather than the ‘consumer expectation’ test, asserting that alternative safer designs could have been adopted economically.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Halliday initially filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against Sturm Ruger, alleging design defect in the gun and inadequate warnings.
  2. The trial court granted Sturm Ruger’s motion for summary judgment on grounds that the gun was not in a defective condition or unreasonably dangerous as it functioned as designed.
  3. Halliday appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, which affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment decision.
  4. Halliday further appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, challenging the lower courts’ refusal to apply the risk-utility analysis instead of the consumer expectation test.

I.R.A.C. Format


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Whether a handgun manufacturer can be held strictly liable for design defects when the gun operates as intended but lacks specific child-proof safety features under the risk-utility analysis rather than the consumer expectation test.

Rule of Law

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Under Maryland law, as articulated in Kelley v. R.G. Industries, Inc., 304 Md. 124, 497 A.2d 1143 (1985), the consumer expectation test applies to determine whether a product is defectively dangerous. A product is considered defective if it is dangerous beyond what an ordinary consumer with common knowledge would expect.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Maryland Court of Appeals applied the consumer expectation test to determine whether the Ruger P89 semi-automatic pistol was defectively dangerous. The court found that the handgun did not malfunction and operated exactly as it was designed to function. The court noted that an ordinary consumer would expect a handgun to have deadly potential if misused and would understand the inherent dangers associated with firearms.

The court rejected Halliday’s argument to adopt a risk-utility analysis because Maryland law does not apply this test unless there is evidence of product malfunction. Additionally, the court emphasized that Garris’s failure to heed numerous warnings and safety instructions constituted misuse of the product, which could not be reasonably foreseen by Sturm Ruger.

The court referenced prior cases such as Kelley v. R.G. Industries and Simpson v. Standard Container Co., where similar reasoning was used to uphold decisions favoring manufacturers when products did not malfunction but were instead misused by consumers despite clear warnings.


Conclusion Icon

The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower courts, holding that Sturm Ruger & Co. could not be held strictly liable for Jordan Garris’s death as the handgun functioned as intended and was not defectively designed under Maryland law.

Dissenting Opinions

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Two judges on the nine-judge en banc panel dissented. They contended that Maryland law should adopt a risk-utility analysis for design defect cases involving firearms and argued that under such an analysis, there was a triable issue regarding whether the lack of child safety features constituted a design defect.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The consumer expectation test in Maryland law determines whether a product is defectively dangerous based on what an ordinary consumer would expect.
  2. Sturm Ruger & Co. was not held liable because the handgun operated as designed and did not malfunction.
  3. Misuse of a product, despite clear warnings, does not constitute a defect in the product under Maryland law.
  4. The risk-utility analysis was not applied as there was no evidence of product malfunction.
  5. The court emphasized the importance of heeding safety warnings and proper use of firearms.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What establishes a product as 'defective' under strict liability?

A product is established as ‘defective’ under strict liability when it varies from its intended design in a manner that makes it more dangerous than what an ordinary consumer would expect. A defective product deviates from the specifications set out by the manufacturer, and causes harm when used in a foreseeable way.

  • For example: If a bicycle’s brake system is designed to withstand certain levels of pressure but fails during normal usage, leading to an accident, the brake system would be considered defective.

What is the 'consumer expectation' test in design defect cases?

The ‘consumer expectation’ test assesses whether a product’s design is defective based on whether the product fails to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or foreseeable manner. The focus is on the expectations for safety inherent in the product by the average user.

  • For example: If a consumer uses a ladder for its intended purpose and it collapses due to flimsy construction, failing to meet common expectations of sturdiness for ladders, it could be considered defectively designed under this test.


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