I Do, But I Don't

I Do, But I Don't

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Steele the Spotlight - A Black/Dawkins Joint

Gun Rights Advocate or Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?
Ron Black, the 400lb Gorilla

Speaker-elect Kris Steele is going to experience pressure unlike anything he has in his lifetime.  His phone will be ringing off the hook from constituents, from the media and from special interest groups desirous of seeing legislation favorable to their causes be heard in various committees.  And of course, there are the plans for the legendary Speaker's Ball.

Kris Steele
But just who is Kris Steele?  What is his background?  How can we expect him to vote and lead the rest of the Republicans in the House?

If history is any indication, we're about to see that rhetoric is far different from reality.

Countless Republicans have screamed from the mountaintops their disdain for those who use the legal system in a manner that some would consider to be frivolous and elected officials have pushed for tort reform for years.  Republicans in Oklahoma are counting on the fact that we have a Republican governor-elect, therefore the possibility of real tort reform is within their grasp.  One of the biggest issues surrounding the debate of tort reform has been whether or not gun manufacturers can be sued by consumers for the death or injury as a result of the negligence of the one wielding the firearm.  Most conservative Republicans would argue that suing a gun manufacturer because the owner of the gun was negligent in their use of the firearm falls under the "frivolous" lawsuit category.

Kind of like a vehicle accident victim suing General Motors because of operator error.  Ridiculous.

So, how surprising would it be to you if you were to find out that the Speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and his family did exactly that - filed a lawsuit against Daisy Manufacturing as a result of injury Kris Steele received as a child?

Kris Steele, conservative Speaker-elect filed suit, that suit was shot down in court and appealed.  The appellate court decision was fascinating to read (available here), and sent back to the lower trial court wherein Daisy Manufacturing apparently settled with the Steele family for an undisclosed amount of cash.

Here is part of the appellate court decision in ruling in favor of the request of the defendants (Daisy Manufacturing and Otasco (seller of the rifle):
¶1 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants in this action for damages based on manufacturers' products' liability. The minor Plaintiff, (Kris) sought recovery from Defendants for an injury he sustained when he was accidentally shot by a friend with an air rifle while they were playing "war" games.
¶2 The father of Derek and Devin, Kris' playmates, gave them a Daisy Power Line 880 pump-up air rifle. He read the instructions and showed them how to use the rifle. The day of the accident, the father had given the boys permission to shoot birds with the rifle. However, the boys opted for a more exciting activity. They decided two of the boys would hide and the other two would hunt for them. As the two boys started to run away, Derek, who was carrying the rifle, jumped back and the rifle accidentally discharged. The rifle was manufactured by Defendant Daisy  Manufacturing Company (Daisy) and sold by Defendant Otasco, Inc. At the time of the accident Derek was 7 years old and Devin and Kris were approximately 9 years old.
¶3 Plaintiffs filed this action alleging the rifle was defective in two respects; first, that Defendants filed to give adequate warnings of the rifle's dangers, and second, that the rifle failed to incorporate economically and technologically feasible safeguards to prevent accidental shootings.
¶4 Defendants filed motions for summary judgment based on deposition testimony, and their argument that any failure to warn was not the proximate cause of Kris' injuries. They also argued they were not required to give warnings due to the nature of the rifle. Their supplemental trial brief emphasized the rifle was sold with printed warnings that were adequate as a matter of law. A second motion for summary judgment attached portions of deposition testimony from experts who stated in their opinion the rifle was not defective in its design. Plaintiffs' response to the first motion for summary judgment addressed only the issue of failure to warn.
¶5 The trial court granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider, this time claiming the rifle was defective in that it did not incorporate an automatic trigger safety. The trial court granted Plaintiffs' motion to reconsider and in the same order again granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appeal.
¶6 On appeal, Plaintiffs submit there are issues of fact remaining to be tried. They maintain deposition testimony of one of their experts shows the warnings were not adequate to apprise anyone of the dangers of allowing minors to use the rifle unsupervised. Thus, the issue of whether the warnings satisfied products' liability standards should have been submitted to a jury.
¶7 It is undisputed the rifle carried warnings. The front page of the operation manual gave the following warning:
"CAUTION: Not a toy. Adult supervision required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury or death. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). See manual for actual shooting distance. This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws governing the use and ownership of air guns."
A tag attached to the trigger guard of the gun stated:
"CAUTION: This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Misuse may result in death or serious permanent injury, particularly to the eye. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws concerning use and ownership of air guns."
¶8 On the box in which the air gun was packaged was the following warning:
"CAUTION: Not a toy. Adult supervision is required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury or death. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws concerning the use and ownership of air guns."
¶9 The operation manual, under "Proper Gun Handling" stated:
"Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
Be sure you know your companions are well clear of the target before you shoot. Ninety percent (90%) of the air gun related accidents occurring in this country are caused by (1) careless handling of the gun . . . (3) shooting at improper targets."
¶10 The father identified each of these warnings as being similar to the instructions and documents he received with the air rifle.
¶11 If a product is potentially dangerous to consumers, a manufacturer is required to give directions or warnings on the container as to its use. If the warnings are unclear or inadequate to apprise the consumer of the inherent danger, the product may be defective, particularly where a manufacturer has reason to anticipate danger may result from the use of his product. If the product fails to contain such warnings of the dangers, the product is sold in a defective condition. However, if the product does contain warnings and these warnings cover all foreseeable use and if the product is not unreasonably dangerous if the warnings and the directions are followed, the product is not defective in this respect.1
¶12 The potential for danger inherent in an air is readily apparent and a warning for the obvious is not a requirement of the doctrine of products liability.2 Many products cannot possibly be made safe for all uses. Unreasonably dangerous means the product must be dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it.3
¶13 Use of any kind of gun involves widely known risks. Daisy placed warnings on the gun, on the box and in the operation manual to apprise purchasers the rifle was not a toy. Use of the gun required supervision not provided by the boys' father, even though a reasonable person would have heeded the warnings. We therefore hold as a matter of law under the facts presented herein the rifle was not defective because of a failure to warn.
In layman's terms, the important part of the Appellate Court's decision is "We therefore hold as a matter of law under the facts presented herein the rifle was not defective because of a failure to warn." Bottom line: The Plaintiff's (Steele's family) allegations that the gun was defective because of a failure to warn was a ridiculous claim and the appellate court affirmed the lower court' ruling.

Judge Hansen however remanded the case to the lower court. The Appellate Court stated "The other basis for liability, that the rifle was defectively designed, presents a different problem." In other words, the Plaintiff's second allegation as to whether the failure to provide certain safety features on the rifle made it defective is a question for a jury to decide. Accordingly, the Appellate Court remanded this question to the lower court for a jury to decide this issue of fact.

Remember, we're talking about the Speaker-elect...not JUST another State Representative.  This is the man who will set the tone for the whole of the State House of Representatives.

This is a man who will set the stage for support of our right to keep and bear arms, a man who will determine whether or not the Republicans in power will actually get their coveted tort reform.

If this were an isolated case, one could easily argue that the trauma as a result of Steele's injury was simply too much for his parents to bear and the family simply wanted just compensation for the injuries sustained.  But it isn't an isolated incident.

In another case (found here), Kris Steele and his wife filed suit against a neighbor for failure to maintain his fence.  Apparently, the Steele's won in excess of $4,500 relief.  For a fence.  A very nice fence, we can ascertain.

The fact of the matter is that as a parent myself, I can imagine the fear, the anger, the frustration and heart-felt compassion one would feel for their child experiencing injury - it's natural.  We all have our thresholds, tolerance for pain and angst and filing suit for some relieves some of the anxiety.  The reader will have to determine whether or not this particular case meets that criteria.  The irony is that in this case, we're dealing with the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Oklahoma - a very conservative state that supports tort reform and supports gun rights and opposes lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

This is the second report on Speaker Steele, the first is here.


Kris Steele and 2nd Amendment Lawsuits
Craig Dawkins, Modern Patriot

Kris Steele and 2nd Amendment Lawsuits
Craig Dawkins
A curious event occurred during the campaign for Senate District 17 between Republican Kris Steele and Democrat Charlie Laster. Steele’s curious campaign strategy involved attacking Laster for simply being an attorney. A strategy that, in hindsight, proved to be inadequate. But in doing some last minute research on both candidates, I came across an interesting 1987 lawsuit involving Kris Steele, his mother and legal guardian, Kay Steele vs. Daisy Manufacturing Company and OTASCO.

First let me reiterate that Kris was a 9-year old child at the time of the accident. But the lawsuit is VERY significant for those concerned with 2nd Amendment rights. According to Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals case number 65532, Kris and a friend were playing “war games” and Kris was accidentally shot with a “Daisy Power Line 880 pump-up air rifle.”  The court document states that his playmate’s father had given his son Derek (age 7) the air rifle. “He read the instructions and showed them how to use the rifle. The day of the accident, the father had given the boys permission to shoot birds with the rifle. However, the boys opted for a more exciting activity. They decided two of the boys would hide and the other two would hunt for them. As the two boys started to run away, Derek, who was carrying the rifle, jumped back and the rifle accidentally discharged.”

The undisputed evidence showed that the rifle carried the following warnings:
The front page of the operation manual gave the following warning:
“CAUTION: Not a toy. Adult supervision required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury or death. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). See manual for actual shooting distance. This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws governing the use and ownership of air guns.”

A tag attached to the trigger guard of the gun stated:
“CAUTION: This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Misuse may result in death or serious permanent injury, particularly to the eye. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws concerning use and ownership of air guns.”

On the box in which the air gun was packaged was the following warning:
“CAUTION: Not a toy. Adult supervision is required. Misuse or careless use may cause serious injury or death. May be dangerous up to 292 yards (267 meters). This is a highpower air gun intended for use by those sixteen (16) years of age or older. Read all instructions before using. The purchaser and user should conform to all laws concerning the use and ownership of air guns.”

The operation manual, under "Proper Gun Handling" stated:
“Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
Be sure you know your companions are well clear of the target before you shoot. Ninety percent (90%) of the air gun related accidents occurring in this country are caused by (1) careless handling of the gun . . . (3) shooting at improper targets.”


In an interview, Steele said that he was unaware of any lawsuit against the parent of the unsupervised child who accidentally shot him. Suing his playmates parent would seem a natural course of action given the warnings on the air gun. However, he stated that the gun in question did in fact malfunction and that the case never made it to trial as it was settled out of court. I asked whether he felt his anti-lawyer campaign stance was a contradiction considering his past history of using lawyers. He said, “My campaign message was that too many attorneys in the Senate allows attorneys to gear the laws to themselves.” I would agree.   

Maybe Steele needed to point more to frivolous lawsuits brought by people looking for a payday against innocent companies that go out of their way to instruct and prevent irresponsible behavior with its products. Had the parent followed the warnings on the gun, the accident may have never have occurred.

Kris Steele’s campaign ads pointed out that trial lawyers are hurting and running businesses out of Oklahoma. The irony is that OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Co.) is no longer in business and Steele himself (through his legal guardian) was involved in suing them before their demise. How was OTASCO responsible? The only way OTASCO could have prevented this type of lawsuit was to not carry guns at all. Which is exactly what the anti-gun lobby wants.    

Go figure…..