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Bates v. Tippmann Sports, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

April 9, 2019

HILDA BATES, as Administrator of the Estate of Neman T. Bates, Plaintiff,
v.
TIPPMANN SPORTS, LLC, and GAYSTON CORPORATION, Defendants, And GAYSTON CORPORATION, Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
BDX, ENTERPRISES, INC., Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER

          GRAHAM C. MULLEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon motions of the Defendants and the Third-Party Defendant for Summary Judgment. These motions are fully briefed and this matter is ripe for disposition.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This is a products liability action arising from the death of Newman Bates (“Mr. Bates”). Around Christmas of 2014 Mr. Bates purchased paintball marker kits at Dick's Sporting Goods (“DSG”) for himself and his 10-year-old son. One of the kits contained a 9 oz. CO2 canister. The canister was sold by Defendant Tippmann Sports, LLC (“Tippmann”) and was designed, manufactured, and assembled by Defendant Gayston Corporation (“Gayston”). The canister was equipped with a pressure relief device (“PRD”) designed to release the CO2 inside the canister if it ever exceeded 3000 psi. The service pressure of the canister was 1800 psi, and it was rated to rupture at 4500 psi. The pin valve of the canister, including its PRD, was sold to Gayston by Third-Party Defendant, BXD, Enterprises, Inc. (“BXD”). It is undisputed that the PRD at issue contained two “burst disks”[1] instead of one.[2] This rendered the PRD defective, causing it to fail to activate when the pressure in Mr. Bates' canister rose. The cylinder itself was not defective.

         When Mr. Bates and his group of friends began playing paintball, they had their CO2 canisters filled at DSG in Gastonia, North Carolina, a 30-minute drive from Mike Shipley's house, where the group played paintball. At some point, members of the group began to consider whether they could fill their own canisters. The canisters, including the one at issue herein, contained the following warning on the label affixed to the cylinder:

IMPROPER USE, FILLING, STORAGE OR DISPOSAL OF THIS CYLINDER MAY RESULT IN DEATH, PERSONAL INJURY AND PROPERTY DAMAGE.
THIS CYLINDER MUST BE FILLED ONLY BY PROPERLY TRAINED PERSONNAL IN ACCORDANCE WITH CGA PAMPLETS P.1.C6, G-6.8, & AV-7.2 AVAILABLE FROM THE COMPRESSED GAS ASSOCIATION, 4221 WALNEY ROAD 5th FLOOR, CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA 20151.
DO NOT OVER PRESSURIZE. . . .

         The Owner's Manual that accompanied the marker kit contained a similar warning.

         After some research, the group learned that there is no certification or license that qualifies someone as a “trained personnel” capable of filling a CO2 canister. Mr. Bates and his friend group began researching how to safely fill a CO2 canister. One of the members of the group rented a bulk CO2 tank from a welding supply store so the group could refill their CO2 canisters at a lesser cost without traveling to a store. They stored the rented tank inside Mr. Shipley's garage. Shipley purchased a fill station and scale so that the group could transfer CO2 from the bulk tank to their personal CO2 canisters. The group reviewed fill instructions available online, watched several videos demonstrating the process, and watched a DSG employee fill a canister. Mr. Bates personally reviewed the videos and available instructions, just like the rest of the group. He read the included Owner's Manual. He asked questions and learned about the fill process from an employee at a paintball field and gear store. Prior to filling his first canister, he received personal instruction from Shipley, who by that time had filled several canisters.

         On February 1, 2015, Mr. Bates played paintball with his friends and refilled his canisters, including the one at issue herein, in Mr. Shipley's garage after the games ended. There is no dispute that the canister at issue was filled above its capacity. On February 2, 2015, Mr. Bates was in his kitchen wrapping the exterior of the CO2 canister with camouflage tape when it exploded. Mr. Bates was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was pronounced dead upon arrival from massive internal trauma to the chest and neck as a result of the canister explosion.

         Plaintiff Hilda Bates filed this lawsuit naming Tippmann and Gayston[3] as Defendants and alleging claims of negligent design, negligent manufacture, negligent failure to warn or instruct, and breach of implied warranties. Gayston filed a Third-Party Complaint against BDX seeking indemnification if it is found that BDX sold a negligently manufactured valve and PRD to Gayston. All three Defendants have now moved for summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Bates was contributorily negligent, thus barring Plaintiff's claims.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary ...


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