Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness' Defect and Causation Opinions Excluded

Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness’ Defect and Causation Opinions Excluded

A district judge in Alabama excluded the testimony of the firearms & ballistics expert because he did not offer any evidence to show any of the alleged dangerous conditions in order to support the product liability claims.

Plaintiff James Andrew Scott, II filed a complaint against Remington Arms Company, LLC (“Remington”) alleging that defects in the trigger mechanism for a Remington Model 770 bolt-action rifle caused it to fire unexpectedly, resulting in the death of his daughter, Alyssa Brooke Scott.

On November 13, 2017, 15-year-old Alyssa and her godmother Christal Davis went deer hunting together. After Alyssa and Davis decided to end the hunt, Davis closed the rifle’s bolt and tied a nylon rope through the trigger guard to lower the rifle to Alyssa. Davis testified that she tied the rope behind the trigger and made sure there was no slack in the knot. Alyssa told Davis that she turned on the rifle’s manual safety switch before she handed over the gun, but Davis does not remember personally checking the position of the safety before she began to lower the rifle from the deer stand. 

Davis lowered the rifle with the muzzle pointing down and the rope fastened through the trigger guard. About halfway down, the gun fired and the bullet struck and killed Alyssa. 

Before the Court is Remington’s combined motion to exclude the opinions of Plaintiff’s proffered liability expert, Jerry Morris and motion for summary judgment.

Firearms & Ballistics Expert Witness

Jerry Morris has been a gunsmith for 51 years and has worked on hundreds of makes and models of firearms, serviced over 10,000 firearms,” and taught classes on gunsmithing. His expert report represented that he “had extensive knowledge and experience with the Remington 770 rifle, and the trigger system in particular.” 

Fortify your strategy by reviewing a Challenge Study detailing grounds for excluding Jerry Morris’ expert testimony. 

Discussion by the Court

Rule 26

Remington argued that Morris’ affidavit is a violation of Rule 26 since it was untimely under the existing scheduling order and consisted of new reasoning and opinions.

The Court held that Scott “was not allowed to use [the Morris affidavit] to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.”

But Scott did not argue that the failure to timely disclose this evidence was substantially justified or harmless, despite being given the opportunity to do so. Instead, Scott stuck to his argument that the evidence was an expansion or elaboration of Morris’ previous testimony, which the Court rejected.

The Court held that the affidavit did not qualify as a supplementation under Rule 26(e) because it went well beyond correcting or completing inaccuracies or omissions in the original expert report.

Rule 702

Remington challenged all of Morris’ opinions. First, Remington contended that he was not qualified to offer his defect opinion and that this opinion was not based on any reliable method-based testing, literature, observations, or experience. Second, Remington argued that Morris’ causation opinion was not supported by any testing, the evidence in this case, or his personal experience.

1. Qualification

Morris based his opinion on the manufacturing process of the Model 770’s trigger and sear. He claimed that Remington uses “inferior powdered metal in the components of the trigger system” and that the rough sear contact was unpredictable and inconsistent.

The Court held that Morris may know a lot about guns, but there is no evidence that he ever investigated or studied the materials in the Model 770 trigger mechanism. He has not designed any fire controls or fire control components and has not reviewed any manufacturing or design records related to the Model 770 rifle. In fact, he admitted that he has only repaired two 770 rifles and cleaned about a dozen in his long history as a gunsmith. And as to this particular gun, he did not measure the sear engagement or contact points between the trigger and sear since he did not have the proper tools. In other words, Morris was not qualified to offer an opinion on the metallurgical properties or design process of the trigger or sear in the Remington Model 770 rifle.

2. Reliability

The Court held that even if Morris had the qualifications to offer his opinions, they would fail the reliability prong of the Daubert inquiry.

To begin with, Morris did not provide any measurements or objective observations of rough contact points or surfaces between the sear and trigger in the rifle at issue here. In fact, he admitted that he did not have the tools to measure them. Likewise, when Morris offered the opinion that the low and inconsistent trigger pull forces he documented resulted from a chipped trigger or rough contact points between the trigger and sear, his testimony merely assumed the presence of a chipped trigger or rough contact points without any evidence supporting that assumption.

The Court found that Morris did not perform any testing or offer any evidence to show that any of the alleged dangerous conditions—“powdered metal” trigger components, rough sear contact points, a chipped trigger, or inconsistent trigger pull weights—caused the rifle to fire without activating the trigger.

3. Assisting the Trier of Fact

The Court found that Morris’ theory that the gun could have bumped the tree as it was lowered to the ground lacked evidence; instead, the uncontroverted evidence from the single surviving eyewitness is that the gun did not bump the tree.

The Court concluded that multiple portions of Morris’ opinions were not based on facts in evidence, and thus would not assist the trier of fact.

With the exclusion of Morris’ expert opinions, Remington contended that Scott did not offer sufficient evidence to support his product liability claims. The Court agreed and entered final judgment in favor of Remington and against Scott.


The Court granted Defendant’s motion to exclude the opinions of Plaintiff’s proffered liability expert, Jerry Morris.

Key Takeaway:

Morris based his defect and causation opinions on the materials and process Remington used to manufacture the trigger and sear. The Court excluded his opinions because he did not produce any literature, reports, or other documentation to support his contention that the Model 770’s components are inferior to other fire controls using different processes or materials. Importantly, he did not provide any testing, explanation, or other support for his theory that using hardened forged steel would create a more consistent contact point between the sear and the trigger. Instead, there is simply no explanation in the record for the methodology he used in reaching his conclusions. Morris has not designed any fire controls or fire control components and has not reviewed any manufacturing or design records related to the Model 770 rifle.

Case Details:

Case Caption: Scott V. Remington Arms Company., LLC
Docket Number:2:19cv1891
Court:United States District Court, Alabama Northern
Order Date:June 13, 2024


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