$11,300,000 – Gun Store Faulted in Shooting

A Philadelphia jury yesterday awarded $11.3 million to a woman who was accidentally shot in the head in 1983, in a case her lawyer says could affect the way local gun shops do business.

Steven Saltz

Tamica Haines, 20, of the city's Olney section, was awarded $850,000 for medical bills and lost earnings and $10.5 million in damages by a Common Pleas Court jury.

Center City lawyer Stephen T. Saltz, who represented Haines, said the jury found that Donn's Gunroom in Montgomeryville was partially liable because it did not include written instructions for proper use of the gun when it sold the weapon to Haines' neighbor in 1981.

In addition, Saltz said, the jury concluded that the gun shop should have demonstrated proper use of the weapon, a .25-caliber semiautomatic.

Saltz said an award as large as yesterday's might cause insurance companies to force gun shops to provide adequate safety.

"Hopefully, gun shops will make sure that there will be written instructions with guns they sell," and that they will demonstrate how to use guns safely, he said.

Fredic L. Goldfein, attorney for the gun shop, would not comment except to say that the award would be appealed.

Haines was 14 years old when the accident occurred on September 2, 1983. She was visiting a 17 year-old friend, Diane Teagle, while another neighbor, Walter Butler, was looking at a gun belonging to Teagle's mother, Brenda, court documents show.

Butler, who was 18 at the time, removed the clip from the gun but did not realize that a round was still in the chamber when he pointed the weapon in Haines' direction, Saltz said.

The gun went off, striking Haines near her left eye. The bullet, which lodged in her skull, caused severe brain damage and other injuries, court document said.

According to Saltz, Brenda Teagle did not know how to operate the gun or even how to load it when she purchased the weapon.

She didn't know what she was doing," Saltz said.

A neighbor loaded the gun for Brenda Teagle, putting six bullets in the clip and one in the chamber, Saltz said. She put the gun in her drawer, and it stayed there until the day Haines was shot. Saltz said Brenda Teagle thought she activated the safety device on the weapon, when in fact she had not.

Had Brenda Teagle been given instructions on how to use the weapon, Saltz contended, a bullet would not have been placed in the chamber, and she would have known how to activate the safety device properly. The jury found that the gun shop is 30 percent liable for the accident. The remainder of the liability was split between Butler and Brenda and Diane Teagle, according to Goldfein.

Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff awarded damages from multiple defendants in a civil suit can collect the entire sum from one defendant.  Goldfein expects Haines to attempt to collect the entire $11.3 million from his client because the gun shop is insured and has so-called deep pockets, while the others are uninsured. "Unfortunately that's the case," he said.