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Watson v. Vista Outdoor, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 26, 2018

CHRISTINA WATSON, ROBERT WATSON, and THE ESTATE OF FALON WATSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
VISTA OUTDOOR, INC., VISTA OUTDOOR OPERATIONS, LLC, and VISTA OUTDOOR SALES, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Vista Outdoor, Inc., Vista Outdoor Operations, LLC, and Vista Outdoor Sales, LLC's (“Defendants”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 65.) Plaintiffs filed a response (Doc. # 71) on May 25, 2018 and Defendants filed a reply (Doc. # 72) on June 7, 2018. Having thoroughly reviewed the underlying briefing, pertinent record, and applicable law, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for the following reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Fifteen-year-old Fallon Watson (“Decedent”) died from a single gunshot wound to the head on March 1, 2014 (“the incident”). (Doc. ## 35 at ¶¶ 9-10, 65-1 at 4.) After performing an autopsy, Dr. Robert Bux described Decedent's wound as a “[p]enetrating gunshot wound with the bullet going steeply upward through the hard palate adjacent to the right maxillary canine tooth and entering the right frontal lobe striking the dura and ricocheting backward, lodging in the medial superior margin of the right frontoparietal lobe area.” (Doc. # 65-1 at 5.) Dr. Bux concluded that “[a]t the time of discharge, the end of the muzzle of the weapon was placed in contact with the skin underneath the right chin” and that the wound was “self-inflicted . . . .” (Id.)

         Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are Decedent's parents and Decedent's estate. (Doc. # 35 at ¶¶ 1-2.) On the day of the incident, Decedent's father discovered her body. (Id. at ¶ 12.) At that time, the pistol that discharged and caused Decedent's death was underneath her body, inside a holster that was fastened with a strap. (Doc # 71 at 3.) Defendants manufactured a nylon holster branded as Uncle Mike's Sidekick Hip Holster (“the holster”), which was carrying the pistol involved in the incident. (Doc. # 35 at ¶¶ 12-16, 18.)

         Plaintiffs argue that the pistol discharged accidentally because of a defect in the design of the holster. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the holster's design featured soft sides which allowed the pistol's safety to be unintentionally disengaged and the pistol's trigger to be unintentionally pulled. See (Doc. # 71 at 4.) Defendants, by contrast, argue that the design of their holster is not defective and that the holster could not have contributed to Decedent's death as Plaintiffs allege. (Doc. # 65 at 4.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim under the relevant substantive law. Wright v. Abbot Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, Okl., 118 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997). When reviewing motions for summary judgment, a court may not resolve issues of credibility, and must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party-including all reasonable inferences from that evidence. Id. However, conclusory statements based merely on conjecture, speculation, or subjective belief do not constitute competent summary judgment evidence. Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Id. In attempting to meet this standard, a movant who does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial does not need to disprove the other party's claims; rather, the movant need simply point the court to a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 644, 671 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)).

         Once the movant meets its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The nonmoving party may not simply rest upon its pleadings to satisfy this burden. Id. Rather, the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmoving party.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. “To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Id. Ultimately, the Court's inquiry on summary judgment is whether the facts and evidence identified by the parties present “a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         B. APPLICATION

         Plaintiffs assert two products liability theories against Defendants. First, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants are strictly liable because Defendants manufactured and sold a defectively designed product. Second, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants negligently breached their duty of care by failing to properly design the holster, provide warnings about accidental discharge, or recall the holster. (Doc. # 71 at 5, 9.)

         1. Strict Product Liability

         A claim for strict product liability in Colorado requires a plaintiff ...


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