Products Liability Law Daily Wrap Up, TOP STORY—WEAPONS AND FIREARMS—N.M.Dist. Ct.: Armorer sues movie prop supplier over Rust shooting death, (Jan 14, 2022)

By Brian Craig, J.D.

The complaint asserts that the movie prop supplier’s introduction of live rounds on the movie set created a “perfect storm” for a safety incident.

The armorer and key props assistant on the production set of the film Rust has sued the prop supplier of guns and ammunition for the movie in New Mexico state court, alle ...

By Brian Craig, J.D.

The complaint asserts that the movie prop supplier’s introduction of live rounds on the movie set created a “perfect storm” for a safety incident.

The armorer and key props assistant on the production set of the film Rust has sued the prop supplier of guns and ammunition for the movie in New Mexico state court, alleging violation of the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act, strict product liability, and related claims for introducing live rounds on the movie set. The armorer claims that the ammunition supplier engaged in unfair trade practices, made false and deceptive product labels, and made false and material misrepresentations by providing dummy ammunition mixed with live rounds, thereby creating a dangerous condition on the movie set that led to the on-set shooting death of the film’s cinematographer (Gutierrez Reed v. Kenney, January 12, 2022).

Allegations. The case arises out of a shooting that occurred on the Rust production set on October 21, 2021, resulting in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of Joel Souza, the film’s director. Producers for the western movie Rust, starring Alec Baldwin, hired Hannah Gutierrez-Reed as an independent contractor for the positions of armorer and key props assistant. The Rust script was a very “gun heavy” western requiring props that included pistols, rifles, dummy ammunition, and blank ammunition. On October 4, 2021, the armorer met with Seth Kenney, the founder and managing member of PDQ Arm and Prop, LLC, the primary distributor and supplier of ammunition and firearms to the film’s set. The supplier distributed dummies in boxes with labels affixed that read “dummy rounds.45 long or.45 LC.” Within each box was a plastic tray of 50 cartridges packaged in 10 columns of 5 individual dummy rows. The supplier also provided .44/.40 caliber dummy rounds. The complaint asserts that the introduction of live rounds onto the set, which no one anticipated, combined with the rushed and chaotic atmosphere, created a “perfect storm” for a safety incident.

Unfair trade practices. The armorer claims that the ammunition supplier violated the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act by introducing live rounds onto the movie set. The complaint alleges that the supplier made false and misleading representations by providing props labeled as dummy rounds for use on the movie set when in fact the rounds were unsafe live rounds and never should have been on a movie set. The armorer claims that the supplier provided ammunition boxes with “45 Colt Dummies” labels, but the ammunition boxes failed to state the contents contained both dummy and live ammunition, which were deceptively sold in violation of New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Strict product liability. The armorer also alleges strict product liability for creating a dangerous condition and for making false and deceptive product labels. The complaint contends that the ammunition supplier distributed boxes of ammunition purporting to contain dummy rounds without a warning label, creating a dangerous condition on the movie set which caused injury to others. Additionally, the ammunition supplier is accused of making false and deceptive product labels and false and material misrepresentations by providing dummy ammunition cartridge boxes from surplus ammunition stockpiles that comprised of both dummy and live ammunition. The complaint asserts that the supplier knew or should have reasonably believed that the ammunition they supplied to the Rust production would be used in the filming of scenes involving the discharging of firearms.

Breach of implied warranty. Additionally, the armorer alleges that the ammunition supplier breached the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose because the props, though not defective, were unsuitable for the particular purpose for which they were purchased. The armorer’s purpose for using dummy ammunition was to portray live ammunition, without using live ammunition, in movie scenes involving gun fights.

Relief sought. The armorer seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and treble damages together with attorneys’ fees and costs.

The case is No. D-202-CV-2022-00217.

Attorneys: Jason Bowles (Bowles Law Firm) for Hannah Gutierrez Reed.

Companies: PDQ Arm & Prop, LLC

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