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"Reasonably anticipated use" means a use or handling of a product that the product's manufacturer should reasonably expect of an ordinary person in the same or similar circumstances. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.53(7). This objective inquiry requires the court to ascertain what uses of its product the manufacturer should have reasonably expected at the time of manufacture.
In 2000, Remington introduced its Model 710 bolt-action rifle. Instead of using a solid bolt, that model was manufactured with a two-piece bolt assembly: the bolt head is attached to the bolt body with a bolt-assembly pin. The bolt handle is attached to the bolt body. When the bolt handle and, therefore, the bolt body, is rotated downward, the bolt head (if the bolt-assembly pin is installed) simultaneously rotates downward and locks the "lugs" on the bolt head into the mating locking recesses in the receiving barrel interface (rifle receiver): the firing position. In such an instance, the rifle is "in battery". Only when the rifle is in battery will it fire properly. The Model 710's owner's manual instructs users to disassemble the bolt assembly, including removing the bolt-assembly pin, for cleaning; and to reassemble the bolt assembly, by reinserting the bolt-assembly pin. Remington also instructs its factory assembly workers to keep a finger beneath the bolt-assembly-pin hole on the bolt body to prevent the bolt-assembly pin from falling out during assembly; however, this instruction is not included in the owner's manual. The owner's manual does not include any warnings of potential hazards if the bolt-assembly pin is not properly installed.
When the rifle fired by Matthews left Remington's control in 2001, it contained a bolt-assembly pin manufactured to specifications. Matthews' mother-in-law, Margaret Minchew, purchased the rifle from her nephew in 2006. It had been owned by several persons before she purchased it; but, when she acquired it, she did not receive the owner's manual. Before the date of the accident, Matthews and others fired the rifle without incident; but, prior to Matthews' accident, someone disassembled the rifle and the bolt assembly and failed to reinstall the bolt-assembly pin. Matthews borrowed the rifle from Margaret’s daughter Amanda Minchew on the morning of the accident in October 2006; the bolt handle appeared to be closed. Matthews took the rifle to his house to obtain ammunition, and then proceeded to another's to "sight" the scope that had been installed recently on the rifle by Nicholas Glass. In preparing to fire the rifle, Matthews rotated the bolt handle upward; pulled it back in order to load a shell; loaded it; pushed the bolt handle forward; and rotated it downward into what appeared to be the closed position. When he pulled the trigger, the shell did not fire (misfired). He again rotated the bolt handle; pulled it back slowly (because he knew there could be compression); and removed the shell. Observing nothing wrong with the shell, Matthews reloaded a shell; pushed the bolt handle forward; rotated it downward into what appeared to be the closed position; and pulled the trigger. The rifle fired. Upon its doing so, an uncontained explosion occurred, sending portions of the bolt assembly into Matthews' head, causing serious injuries, including the loss of an eye. The accident resulted from the absence of the bolt-assembly pin: the bolt handle and body had rotated downward, but the bolt head had not. Therefore, the locking lugs on the bolt head failed to engage the locking mating recesses in the rifle receiver, and the rifle was out of battery.
Matthews thus filed a claim under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA), La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 9:2800.51-.59 (1988), for injuries that resulted from his firing a rifle. The district court ruled in favor of Remington, holding among others that at some point prior to the accident, however, someone disassembled the bolt assembly and failed to reinstall the bolt assembly pin"; and his using it in an "out of battery" condition—the bolt-assembly pin missing—was not "reasonably anticipated" by Remington. Matthews tried to move for a new trial, but it was denied.
Did Remington reasonably anticipate that someone would fail to reinstall the bolt-assembly pin and that the rifle would be fired in that condition, thereby making them liable under the LPLA?
We can not say that the district court clearly erred in finding that Remington should not have reasonably anticipated (reasonably expected) the rifle to be fired after someone had removed, but failed to reinstall, the bolt-assembly pin. This is evidenced by the instructions in Remington's Model 710 owner's manual to reinstall the bolt-assembly pin when reassembling the bolt assembly. Of course, it was "reasonably foreseeable" that a user might drop the bolt-assembly pin during reassembly, as evidenced by the instruction from Remington to its assembly workers to keep a finger beneath the bolt-assembly-pin hole during the initial assembly; however, that is not the LPLA standard. The standard is: at the time of manufacture, how did the manufacturer reasonably expect its product to be used by an ordinary person.
Matthews failed to prove Remington, at the time of manufacture of the rifle at issue, was aware of a single other incident where a Model 710 rifle, or any rifle using a similar two-piece bolt assembly, was fired without a properly installed and functioning bolt-assembly pin. As correctly held by the district court, Remington anticipated that a user would disassemble the Model 710 bolt assembly for cleaning and remove the bolt assembly pin, but Mr. and Mrs. Matthews have not presented persuasive evidence that Remington also should have anticipated that users would fail to reinstall the bolt assembly pin. Both lay and expert witnesses testified that an ordinary firearm user knows and understands that reassembly of a firearm with all its parts is critical to safe operation. Thus, Remington was entitled to expect that an ordinary user would reassemble the rifle with all its parts, absent special circumstances not present in this case.