- One of the nation's largest rifle makers is accused of marketing a muzzleloader that occasionally explodes and can severely injure hunters
- Several hunters say they have been injured over the last decade when a rifle made by Savage Arms unexpectedly exploded upon firing
- The company has faced several lawsuits over its 10ML-II stainless steel rifle, which was once favored by thousands of big game hunters in the U.S.
- A lawsuit alleges Savage knew about the defect when the model was available between 2006 and 2013
- The company says the exploding barrels must have been caused by hunters using the rifles incorrectly
Published: 13:46 EST, 5 December 2017 | Updated: 17:34 EST, 5 December 2017
It was the opening day of deer hunting season, and Ronald Hansen says he loaded his rifle the same way he had countless times before, aimed at a target and fired a shot.
This time, the gun barrel exploded, knocking the farmer from Hampton, Iowa, backward, severely damaging his right hand and ear and burning his face.
Unknown to Hansen, the manufacturer of the rifle that injured him in 2014 had received other complaints of explosions and injuries over the prior decade.
Customers repeatedly reported that the barrel of the stainless steel 10 ML-II muzzleloader exploded, burst, split or cracked, according to thousands of court documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Trent Procter of Swan River, Manitoba, shows his injured left hand months after his muzzleloader explode
Lawyers for the company, Westfield, Massachusetts-based Savage Arms, were expected to appear Wednesday in federal court in Iowa to defend against a lawsuit filed by Hansen.
He is seeking damages for his injuries, alleging the company failed to warn customers about the defect.
It's one of several lawsuits that have claimed the company recklessly kept the muzzleloaders on the market even as they kept occasionally mangling hands, damaging hearing and burning faces.
At least three have been settled on a confidential basis since last year.
A Savage Arms stainless steel 10ML-II muzzleloader is displayed weeks after its barrel exploded and severely injured his Proctor's hand. Tgone of several that allege the company kept a defective firearm on the market. (Gordon Harris/Trent Procter via AP)
Martin Crimp, a Michigan State University metals expert who examined a 10ML-II that exploded and caused a hunter to lose multiple fingers in 2009, told the AP the barrel of that gun was 'metallurgically defective.'
An expert hired by Hansen's lawyers came to a similar conclusion, saying the steel used to make the rifle was prone to catastrophic failure after repeat firings.
Anthony Pisciotti, an outside lawyer for Savage Arms, said he wasn't authorized to comment. A spokesman for its parent company, Vista Outdoor, didn't return messages.
Procter's stainless steel 10ML-II muzzleloader exploded and severely injured his left hand. Savage Arms recently agreed to pay a confidential settlement to Procter to resolve his lawsuit
Savage Arms, which discontinued the gun in 2010 after thousands were on the market, has insisted it's safe when used properly, has no defects and was designed in accordance with industry standards.
Savage Arms has argued that operator error is to blame for the explosions, saying users must have created too much pressure inside the barrel either by loading two bullets or using the wrong amount or type of gunpowder.
It has issued a safety notice on its website warning owners to 'carefully follow the safe loading procedures' in the product manual to avoid injuries.
Hansen's case highlights how gun makers, unlike manufacturers of other consumer products, have the sole discretion to decide themselves whether to recall potentially dangerous weapons.
In 1976, Congress blocked the newly-created Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has broad authority to regulate everything from toasters to toys and BB guns, from restricting the manufacture or sale of firearms.
'It's an example of an industry that can essentially do whatever they want and there's no consequences other than being held accountable in a civil liability context,' said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C.
Other companies have faced allegations that they allowed unsafe guns to stay on the market. Remington agreed to replace triggers in its popular Model 700 rifles – only after several lawsuits claiming that they were prone to accidentally discharging.
Ruger was accused of marketing revolvers for decades that could fire when dropped.
Savage Arms recently agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Trent Procter, who was on a hunting trip with friends in October 2009 when the 10 ML-II he'd owned for years 'just blew apart' when he shot at a target.
Procter, 48, missed nine months of work from his job as a power company lineman as he endured surgeries on his left hand and rehabilitation.
He had to move to a different job and still experiences numbness due to nerve damage in his hand, where he's missing parts of his thumb and middle finger.
Photos of Procter's hand were shared on hunting websites after the explosion, and he said it was insulting that some suggested he and not a defective product was to blame.
'I'm surprised it was never recalled or a warning was put out that this was actually happening,' he said. 'It's quite scary when you think about it.'
Last year, the company also settled a case brought by Michigan hunter Rodney Palatka and his wife, who was pregnant with twins and suffered a miscarriage after witnessing her husband's injuries.
James Putman of North Carolina alleges in a pending lawsuit that his Savage 10ML-II burst as he hunted last year in the George Washington National Forest, blasting his thumb off and forcing his early retirement as a firefighter.
Savage Arms started making the 10ML-II in 2001. It was designed to withstand the use of smokeless powder, which appealed to some shooters because it didn't require the same messy cleanup as black powder.
The company's knowledge of the barrel problems is becoming clear after years of lawsuits.
In Palatka's case, a federal magistrate in 2015 sanctioned the company for a 'purposeful record of obfuscation' that included falsely claiming that it was aware of only two prior explosions while withholding information that showed otherwise.
The company acknowledged in Hansen's case that it received 45 legal claims related to burst or split barrels dating to 2004. Hansen's lawyers say documents show Savage Arms created a special 'muzzleloader return team' and faced hundreds of warranty and service claims.
Some hunters were offered free replacement rifles after they were told their errors caused the damage.
Hansen, 50 and a lifelong hunter, testified in an August deposition that he followed the recommended procedures when he loaded his 10ML-II, which he bought in 2010 and had shot 200 times. He said he weighed and loaded 43 grains of the recommended powder and one bullet. He set a target at 50 yards, laid on a dirt pile, aimed and fired.
Hansen, who was rushed to the emergency room after the explosion, testified he still struggles to hear even with a hearing aid and cannot perform some farm chores due to his hand injury.
Savage Arms has suggested that Hansen used an improper mix of powders that caused too much pressure. Trial is set for next year.
Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania
A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.
Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.
The other driver involved was not hurt.
Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.
The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.
“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.
“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”
Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.
Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.
Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos
Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.
Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.
While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.
“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.
A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.
Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.
“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.
He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.
“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”
The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.
“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.
Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.
On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.
Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.
But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.
Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.
“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”
The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.
The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.
“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.
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