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Family of Georgia college student sues Newington-based Sig Sauer, alleging dropped gun played a role in his death

 Sig Sauer's P938 pistol
Dmoore5556 via Wikimedia Commons
Sig Sauer's P938 pistol, the gun at the center of the latest lawsuit against the Newington company.

The family of a 21-year-old Georgia man who was killed in 2021 is suing Sig Sauer, alleging he was killed after one of the company’s pistols discharged after it fell out of a pick up truck .

Dalton Harrell, who was a pitcher on Florida A&M University’s baseball team at the time of his death, was shot in the chest while sitting in a golf cart in a country club parking lot in Bainbridge, Georgia.

According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Decatur County Superior Court, Caleb Boutwell, a friend of Harrell’s, opened the door of his pick-up truck, dislodging a Sig Sauer model P938 pistol from the door pocket, which then fell to the ground and discharged.

The lawsuitfiled by Harrell’s family names both Sig Sauer and Boutwell as defendants.

“One of two things is true,” said Ramsey Prather, an attorney representing the Harrell family. “Either Caleb Boutwell did not pull the trigger, in which event Sig Sauer is clearly liable, or Caleb Boutwell did pull the trigger, in which event Caleb Boutwell is liable. A jury is going to have to decide who is at fault for Dalton’s death.”

Bainbridge police investigated Boutwell’s role in the shooting in 2021, and declared that “the incident was determined to be accidental and no arrests were made.”

Sig Sauer did not respond to a request for comment on the newly filed lawsuit. NHPR could not locate Boutwell for comment. Neither has yet been served a copy of the suit, according to local court officials.

According to court paperwork, Sig Sauer is a member of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, an industry group that recommends that rifles, shotguns and handguns be able to pass a “drop test” from a height of four feet, meaning the weapon won’t accidentally fire.

The New Hampshire-based gun manufacturer has faced dozens of civil lawsuits alleging that a different pistol — the popular P320 — discharged without a trigger pull, severely injuring both law enforcement officers and civilians.

The company maintains its weapons are safe.

The P320 pistol is used by law enforcement agencies across the country, and in 2017, was selected as the new sidearm for the U.S. Army, a contract worth up to $580 million. According to previously filed court records, the Army discovered the P320 could fire when dropped at certain angles in 2016, prompting the company to modify its design.

Dozensof lawsuits have been filed since then, including by law enforcement officers, who claim they were injured when their P320s discharged without a trigger pull even after the weapon in question was modified.

A New Hampshire federal court judge in 2022 dismisseda proposed class action lawsuit filed over the P320, which sought financial compensation for the gun’s owners.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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