In Tremonton, Utah, a family is facing a bizarre tragedy after Robby Ostberg, 14, was killed after being shot in the head by a small replica cannon. Notably, the police have said that they first believed that the cannon was purely decorative but then found that it was designed to fire a .50-caliber round. That would create a possible basis for a tort lawsuit for negligence and possibly product liability.
If the cannon was in fact designed to fire a .50-caliber round, there is the question of whether it should have been treated as a firearm and whether it was defectively designed. However, Utah laws are silent on replica firearms and antique firearms.
Product manufacturers are liable for “foreseeable misuse.” The question is whether such a device should have had some safety feature. Obviously, the parents would hold the clearest responsibility in protecting children from this risk — as they would a loaded gun in the house. Notably I was able to find various cannons that fire a .50 caliber round. The products do not come with any warnings. Indeed, one such product says that the cannon can help you “[s]tart a new family tradition, celebrate a holiday or just have fun with friends by firing off this historic-looking replica cannon. This .50 caliber has the look and feel of a working piece of artillery.” However, that product comes with the following warnings:
I could not find any law in Utah requiring safety locks on firearms. Utah does have a few limitations on minors using firearms but it does not appear that this replica would fit the definition of a firearm.
So, if Utah does not require any permit for such a product, can it be viewed as defective absent safety features? If a gun is not required to have such safety features, why would the toy cannon? What do you think?