2005 Sharp Award Recipients

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Award Honors Brandon Maxfield’s Suit Against Deadly Weapons-Maker Bryco Arms

2005 Sharp Award Winner Brandon Maxfield

Attorney Richard R. Ruggieri and his client, Brandon Maxfield, recognized for bringing a landmark case against “Saturday Night Special” gun manufacturer Bryco Arms.

(Tuesday, July 26, 2005) - San Rafael, California attorney Richard R. Ruggieri and his client, Brandon Maxfield, who brought a landmark case against “Saturday Night Special” gun manufacturer Bryco Arms, have been named the winners of the 2005 Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) announced today.

The Sharp Award, which is given each year to the ATLA member whose case most exemplifies the power of the American civil justice system, is named for Steven Sharp, an Oregon teenager. Steven lost both arms when they were trapped in a defective tractor hay baler. Steven won an $8.5 million jury verdict against the tractor company. The company appealed, but on June 24, 1999, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court affirmed Steven’s case. His story helped defeat a federal products liability bill that would have limited the legal rights of all American families.

This year’s case, Maxfield vs. Bryco, was brought by Ruggieri on behalf of a young California man named Brandon Maxfield. Brandon was accidentally shot in the face when he was just seven years old, by a defectively designed Bryco pistol which discharged while being unloaded. As a result, Brandon is paralyzed below the neck for life.

Because of Brandon’s courage and Ruggieri’s commitment to this case, on May 7, 2003, a jury of the Superior Court of the State of California in Alameda County unanimously awarded $50.9 million in compensatory damages to Brandon. The jury found gun designer Bruce Jennings, Bryco Arms, and its distributor B.L. Jennings, Inc. partially liable for knowingly designing unreasonably dangerous and defective products, and the Court entered a judgment of $24 million against Bryco Arms, Bruce Jennings, and B.L. Jennings, Inc.

But the battle wasn’t over. Not surprisingly, Bryco and Jennings, filed for bankruptcy days after the verdict. Jennings moved across the country to Daytona Beach, Florida, purchased a $500,000 annuity, and paid cash for a $900,000 home and hangar, which housed his Lamborghini and other expensive cars and several aircraft.

Determined to keep fighting, Brandon Maxfield began a fundraising campaign, using the Internet and word-of-mouth, to raise money to buy the bankrupt company. He wanted to melt down the remaining inventory of guns and weapons, so that no one else would be hurt or killed. In an amazing effort, Brandon raised over $500,000—but it still wasn’t enough to top the bid of Bryco’s plant manager in bankruptcy court, who, it is now apparent, was financed in his bidding by money traced back to the Jennings family.

The re-formed company, now known as Jimenez Arms, and its sole distributor, Shining Star Investments, are owned by the former plant manager and Bruce Jennings’s second ex-wife, Janice Jennings respectively. And the Jimenez JA-9 pistols they make and sell include the same safety defect as the Bryco's—a manual safety that must be set to "fire" before the gun can be unloaded. Bryco has yet to provide any compensation to Brandon.

Ruggieri’s fight for his client continues, but because of his and Brandon’s tireless efforts, they nonetheless succeeded in capturing the attention of the United States Congress, the national news media, and the American public with Brandon’s story.

At a time when Congress is working to prohibit gun lawsuits and shield weapons manufacturers from liability, this case is an inspiration for advocates of safe products and legal accountability. Richard and Brandon’s perseverance has sent an unmistakable message about the importance of the civil justice system and its role in achieving fairness for all Americans.

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