July 31, 2015
Firearms manufacturer Taurus has agreed to a voluntary recall of nearly 1 million pistols as part of the settlement of a lawsuit that alleges nine handgun models had defects, including one that caused some to inadvertently fire when dropped.
“This is not an anti-firearms lawsuit. This is a defective product lawsuit,” said Birmingham attorney Todd Wheeles, co-lead counsel representing plaintiffs in the 2013 federal lawsuit. “This hopefully will help save lives by taking defective firearms off the street.”
The settlement affects customers who bought the following models sold between 1997 and 2013 in the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam: PT-111 Millennium; PT-132 Millennium; PT-138-Millennium; PT-140 Millennium; PT-145 Millennium; PT-745 Millennium; PT-609; PT-640; and PT-24/7.
Despite the voluntary recall, Taurus denies any design defects in the models.
As of early 2013 the pistols were no longer manufactured and distributed in the United States. The company is headquartered in Brazil, but it has operations in Miami.
A federal judge in Miami on Thursday preliminarily approved the settlement that calls basically for Taurus to do three things for customers:
- Provide an enhanced warranty to allow any owner – even if it isn’t the original owner and for the life of the pistol – to submit the handgun for inspection and repair, if possible. If the defects can’t be repaired Taurus will offer to replace the pistol with a similar new one. Normal inspection and shipping fees and labor costs will be waived.
- Produce on-line safety training videos for those customers who bought the pistols to show them how to handle and carry the pistols to avoid dropping them and how to ship them for warranty repairs.
- Allow customers who bought the pistols to send their pistols back for cash payments. The payments will vary up to $200, depending on how many pistols are returned.
The lawsuit alleges that there were safety defects in the nine models that caused them to fire when the trigger is pulled even though the safety in the “on” or “safe” position and others when dropped or bumped, a notice that will be published and sent to customers states. The alleged defects are attributable to the lack of a “trigger safety blade” within the semi-automatic pistols, the lawsuit claims.
Under the settlement total cash payments are capped at $30 million. According to court documents, the plaintiffs’ attorneys also are seeking up to $9 million for fees, costs and expenses.
The federal judge is to hold a hearing in January to determine whether to give final approval to the settlement. In the meantime the judge has set out deadlines for the company to publish notices and the safety videos.
Wheeles estimates that with the cash payment cap, repair and replacement of guns, and attorneys’ fees, the cost to Taurus will eventually total more than $50 million.
Efforts to reach a Taurus spokesman or an attorney for the company were unsuccessful Thursday evening. But the company has denied there were any defects in those handgun models.
“The Taurus Companies stand by the Class Pistols and vigorously deny all allegations of wrongdoing and liability,” a notice that will be sent to customers states.
History of the case
The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit is Chris Carter, a sheriff’s deputy in Scott County Iowa who had a PT140 Millennium PRO pistol, according to a summary of the complaint in Thursday’s order. He alleged that on July 29, 2013 while serving on a narcotics detail he pursued a fleeing suspect. As he ran, his pistol fell from his holster, hitting the ground and discharging a bullet that struck a nearby unoccupied vehicle.
Wheeles, who had handled more than a half-dozen lawsuits about the alleged Taurus defects, said he was contacted by Carter, who later came to represent the class of customers who had the gun models. “It kind of fell in my lap,” he said.
Wheeles, of the Birmingham law firm Morris, Haynes, Hornsby & Wheeles, said he then got with David L. Selby , II and his firm Bailey & Glasser, LLP. That firm has handled a number of class-action cases. Selby is also co-lead counsel in the class-action lawsuit.
The firms later worked with the law firm Leesfield & Partners, P.A., and attorney Angelo Marino , Jr. in Miami where the lawsuit was filed.
Wheeles said his first lawsuit against Taurus and defective handguns involved an Etowah County man, Adam Maroney, who was awarded a $1.25 million verdict by a jury. The company later settled for an undisclosed amount.
Maroney had alleged that his holstered handgun fell out of a pocket and fired when it hit the ground. A bullet struck him in the upper thigh and ended up in his left lung, Wheeles said.
During the Maroney trial the president and CEO of Taurus testified that drop tests were not conducted on the guns, Wheeles said.