SIG Sauer, the New Hampshire-based gunmaker embroiled in controversy surrounding its most popular handgun model, is facing new claims that one of its other weapons has a lethal defect.

In a lawsuit filed June 6, the family of Dalton Harrell alleges that the 21-year-old was killed when a SIG Sauer pistol discharged after it was dropped at a golf course in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 2021. Harrell was a baseball standout who had recently transferred to Florida A&M University to pitch for its varsity team. He had yet to play a game in a Rattlers uniform.

The gun — a subcompact pistol called a P938, not the P320 model implicated in a rash of unintentional shootings — belonged to Harrell’s friend, who told police that the weapon fired after tumbling from his driver-side door when he opened it, a police incident report shows. The bullet struck Harrell in the chest while he sat in a golf cart nearby. 

Harrell’s family sued SIG Sauer and Harrell’s friend, alleging that the gun involved in the shooting was defective and that Harrell’s friend handled the weapon negligently by leaving it loaded and unholstered in a precarious position. 

“This is a tragedy that should never have happened,” said Daniel Philyaw, one of the lawyers representing Harrell’s family, in a press release announcing the action. “Sig Sauer knew about a drop fire defect in its pistols but did not warn anyone.”

SIG Sauer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A review of court records suggests this may be the first lawsuit stemming from an unintentional shooting involving the P938, and one of the only allegedly unintentional discharges involving any SIG Sauer firearm to result in a death. 

The suit makes frequent reference to controversy surrounding SIG Sauer’s most popular handgun, the P320, which has been plagued by reports of unintentional firings since 2017. In April, The Trace and The Washington Post published an investigation revealing that more than 100 people have alleged their P320s fired on them when they didn’t pull the trigger, resulting in at least 80 injuries. The gun was the subject of a voluntary upgrade program in 2017, after videos published online showed it firing when dropped. 

At least 35 shootings reviewed by The Trace and The Post involved guns with the upgraded designs.

An image of Dalton Harrell.

The lawsuit adds the P938 to a growing list of SIG Sauer products with alleged defects. In 2017, just a month after launching the voluntary upgrade program for the P320, the company recalled a number of semiautomatic rifles it said were vulnerable to a potentially lethal trigger malfunction. Three years later it, recalled a popular bolt-action rifle after a video showed it firing well after its trigger was pulled. 

Adam Garber, the executive director at the violence prevention nonprofit Ceasefire Pennsylvania and former director of the consumer watchdog office in the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for consumer product safety, called the pattern concerning. “When a manufacturer has problems like this across multiple product platforms there’s a real question about how they’re safety testing their equipment,” he said. 

The lawsuit does not specify what defect may have caused the P938 to fire when dropped, and notes that the gun possesses safety components that should have prevented it from firing. But it states that manufacturing defects in the gun “caused those components to malfunction.” 

Harrell’s family is seeking punitive damages and a jury trial. SIG Sauer has yet to respond to the filing.