$2.6M Verdict for Trooper in Defective Gun Holster Case
Max Mitchell, Law Weekly
October 20, 2016
A Philadelphia jury has hit a firearms accessories manufacturer with a $2.6 million verdict for an allegedly defective holster that caused a state trooper’s gun to fire into his leg while he was exiting his vehicle.
The jury awarded Pennsylvania State Police Officer Jesse Oleksza the money Oct. 18 after finding that a holster designed and manufactured by Gould & Goodrich Inc. was defective. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Daniel J. Anders oversaw the case.
The case was not only a decisive win for the plaintiff, but it is also one of the first wave of products liability cases to hit trial after the state Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Tincher v. Omega Flex, said Sacchetta and Baldino attorney Gerald B. Baldino, who represented Oleksza.
“Post-Tincher, at this point, it’s the Wild, Wild West,” Baldino said. He added that, although there were numerous summary judgment motions and motions in limine regarding uncharted products liability issues, Anders was very “thorough” and open to arguments from all sides to ensure he made the right legal rulings.
Baldino said the number of witnesses who testified for Oleksza, including about ten state troopers, and the factual evidence that was considered was effective in front of the jury.
“In almost all cases, it’s either putting the gun in the holster, or pulling it out of the holster, where the trigger is pulled, but in this case, all the evidence indicated it was in the holster,” he said, adding that gunshot residue and scuffmarks on the holster also provided key factual evidence indicating the gun was in the holster when it fired.
Baldino said the jury was also shown other holsters that provided for more trigger protection.
The jury was asked to decide whether the defect was a cause of harm under the consumer expectations test and the risk utility test, both of which are tests that Tincher recommended be incorporated into products liability cases.
Due to the dispute over whether the holster allowed a foreign object to get into the trigger area, the jury questionnaire also included a set of questions asking whether the gun holster simply malfunctioned. Finding that there was a defect in the holster, the jury did not reach those questions.
According to Oleksza’s pretrial memo, he was returning his police vehicle to the station and was attempting to retrieve his gym bag when the gun, a Glock 37 semiautomatic pistol, went off. The gun had been holstered in a Gould & Goodrich double retention holster on his right hip.
At first Oleksza thought the shotgun in his vehicle, which his gym bag had been attached to, had fired, the memo said. However, according to the memo, a foreign object, likely a key, had lodged itself in the holster and caused the gun to fire. The memo said Oleksza had been holding a set of keys when he tried to retrieve his gym bag, and added that there was also a set of keys attached to his duty bag and another set attached to his duty belt.
The memo said an internal affairs investigation cleared Oleksza of any wrongdoing, and an analysis from the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Forensic Services also confirmed that the gun could be discharged by inserting a key into the holster and then applying pressure, the memo said.
In the lawsuit, Oleksza contended that the holster was defective for failing to properly protect the trigger. He sought recovery on negligence, strict liability and breach of implied warranty claims.
The bullet, according to Oleksza’s memo, hit his thigh and lodged in his ankle after it transected the peroneal nerve in his knee. He contended that the injuries led to permanent scarring and numbness in his leg, and also led to hip problems.
Gould & Goodrich, in its pretrial memo, contended that the warnings on the holster included making sure foreign objects stayed out of the holster while the gun was holstered, and, as part of his training, Oleksza had been aware of the need to keep objects out of the holster. The memo also said a state police investigation found no holster defect.
Gould & Goodrich also contended that it was not possible to design a holster that prevents all objects from getting inside, and argued that it was more likely that Oleksza had accidentally pulled the trigger while he was distracted.
Defendant Markl, which had supplied the holster to the state police, contended that it played no role in selection or designing the holster. Markl noted in its pretrial memo that it had a cross claim against Gould & Goodrich for common-law indemnity.
Attorney Mark Merlini of Marks, O’Neill, O’Brien, Doherty & Kelly, which represented Gould & Goodrich, and Todd B. Narvol of Thomas, Thomas & Hafer declined to comment.