A Georgia jury has found New Hampshire-based gunmaker SIG Sauer liable in the shooting of a man who claimed his P320 pistol fired when he did not pull the trigger. The jury also awarded him $2.35 million in damages. 

It’s the second of several dozen lawsuits involving the company’s flagship handgun to go to trial, and the first in which a jury determined that the gun was defectively designed. 

On June 20, jurors in the Atlanta federal court found unanimously on all counts for Robert Lang of Roswell, Georgia, after deliberating for roughly nine hours. They concluded not only that SIG Sauer defectively designed the P320, but also that the company had failed to provide adequate warnings to consumers about the risk of unintended shootings. 

The verdict comes amid a storm of controversy for SIG Sauer regarding its popular P320 handgun. In April 2023, The Trace and The Washington Post published an investigation revealing that more than 100 people had alleged that their P320s fired without the trigger being pulled, and at least 80 people had been injured in the shootings. SIG Sauer has maintained that the incidents were the result of unsafe handling and that the P320 is safe to use. 

In the year since the Post/Trace investigation, an additional 14 people have sued SIG Sauer, reporting another 13 injuries. 

During the Georgia trial, Lang conceded that it’s possible an unknown object or pressure from his gun’s holster had manipulated the trigger, but he argued that a properly designed gun would possess safeties to prevent it from firing in such a situation, or at least be sold with warnings about the weapon’s sensitivity.

“I just hope that my verdict will be the tip of the spear,” Lang told The Trace after his trial concluded. “I hope that SIG will finally do what’s right and make sure no one dies from this defect.”

Lang was carrying the most up-to-date version of the P320 pistol — released after the company modified the design in 2017 — when he attempted to remove the holstered weapon from his belt after returning home from work one night in December 2018. As part of his usual routine, Lang loosened his belt and reached for the weapon’s grip. That’s when he says it fired, still fully secured in its holster and with his fingers flat against the holster’s belt clip, away from the trigger. 

The bullet pierced the top of Lang’s thigh and barreled out just above his kneecap, he told The Trace. His wife and their 2-year-old son, both home at the time, screamed at the explosive crack. An ambulance arrived quickly and took Lang to the hospital, where he was treated and discharged the same night. He still suffers from sporadic nerve pain in his thigh and post traumatic stress, according to a medical expert hired by his lawyers.

Most of the money awarded as damages is intended to compensate Lang for past and future pain and suffering. The remainder — about $50,000 — will cover the medical expenses he incurred as a result of his injury, including those from a three-day stint in the intensive care unit after the wound became infected. 

When The Trace reached out with questions about the case, Samantha Piatt, a SIG Sauer spokesperson, referred to a public statement saying that the company “strongly disagrees” with the verdict in Lang’s case and plans to appeal. “There are no facts on the record to support that Mr. Lang’s discharge claim was the result of anything other than his own negligent handling causing him to pull the trigger on the P320 pistol,” the statement reads. “SIG SAUER is extremely proud of our long history of producing high-quality firearms and our unwavering dedication to safety.”

In 2022, SIG Sauer won a jury trial in a lawsuit alleging a different defect in the P320. At least 12 other cases against the company have been dismissed. 

Guns are one of the only products exempt from federal consumer product safety regulations. Despite the dangers posed by a malfunctioning firearm, no federal agency can investigate alleged defects or impose recalls when models are found to pose a safety hazard. When a gun malfunctions — even if a jury decides that the malfunction is the result of a design or manufacturing flaw — it is up to the weapon’s maker to investigate the problem and notify the public. 

Lang’s verdict does not require SIG Sauer to recall the P320, to modify its design, or to inform the public about potential safety risks.

Results from testing on Lang’s pistol ahead of his trial showed that it took only 4.5 pounds of pressure on the gun’s trigger to cause it to fire — well under the 6 pounds of pressure promised to consumers in the gun’s manual. The trigger only needed to move a sixth of an inch — about the width of five credit cards — before discharging. In contrast, the trigger on a Glock handgun must travel more than twice as far, testing for the trial showed.

Jurors concluded that SIG Sauer was liable for Lang’s shooting because it had not designed the P320 with a special trigger safety like the one used on Glocks and many other similar guns. Trigger safeties are essentially small tabs on the face of a gun’s trigger that must be fully depressed before the trigger will move. They are designed to ensure that guns don’t fire when dropped, or when indirect pressure, like that from a holster, is applied. 

At trial, SIG Sauer representatives said that original prototypes of the P320 came with trigger safeties, but the company did away with the model after a safety-less version passed a spate of widely used industry safety tests. SIG Sauer marketing materials have stated that the company would offer a version of the P320 with a trigger safety for sale, but it never did. 

Additional testimony focused on inconsistencies around SIG Sauer’s description of the P320’s basic mechanism of firing. In product catalogs and brochures dating back to 2015, and later in deposition testimony, SIG Sauer has said that the P320 employs what’s called a double-action firing mechanism. Double-action guns work like bows and arrows: As the trigger is pulled, a metal pin inside the gun is drawn backward (action one) and then released (action two). The pin strikes the bullet, which causes the gun to fire. 

Many firearms experts consider double-action guns safer than single-action guns — in which pressing the trigger only releases the pre-cocked bow, as it were — because they are less liable to discharge unintentionally. 

During Lang’s trial, Sean Toner, who designed the P320, said that though he had testified in previous lawsuits that the P320 is a double-action gun, he now agreed that it is more accurately described as a single-action pistol. “It was kind of a recent thing that I’ve come to that conclusion,” Toner said, according to a transcript of his testimony.

The P320’s trigger and its firing mechanism featured in testimony about SIG Sauer’s 2017 “voluntary upgrade program.” That fall, video evidence emerged showing that the P320 would fire when dropped at certain angles. A day later, SIG Sauer announced it would change the design of the pistols, and that customers with the original model could return their guns free of charge to have the upgrade installed. The company has insisted that this program did not amount to a recall and maintains that the original model is safe to use. The original P320s are still available in some gun shops today. 

CNN later reported that SIG Sauer had known about the drop fire issue at least a year before notifying the public. Lang’s attorneys argued that the early drop fire concerns, which had been discovered in 2016 during testing by the U.S. Army, should have prompted SIG Sauer to make changes to the gun’s design. 

In response to The Trace’s earlier reporting on the P320, multiple members of Congress voiced support for legislation that would grant consumer product safety oversight of firearms to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But these efforts have stalled in committee. 

“A jury’s decision to hold the gun manufacturer SIG Sauer accountable for its defective pistol has renewed urgency to pass my Firearms Safety Act,” said Representative Robin Kelly, a Democrat who represents northeast Illinois, including parts of Chicago. “It is absurd that the CPSC can regulate teddy bears — but not guns. The CPSC should be able to recall defective guns, just as they’re allowed to recall defective bicycles, batteries, and every other common household item.” 

Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan said she is continuing to push her Defective Firearms Protection Act, which also aims to bring firearms under the CPSC’s purview. “The gun industry remains the only domestic manufacturer of a consumer product in the United States that is exempt from federal health and safety regulations,” she said. “We’ve seen the danger that poses, as evidenced by this case and several others like it.”

Robert Zimmerman, one of the attorneys representing Lang, is currently litigating lawsuits on behalf of more than 60 plaintiffs who accuse SIG Sauer of defectively designing the P320. He told The Trace he was pleased the jury had agreed that the weapon is “defective and dangerous.”

“We call upon SIG Sauer to redesign this pistol for the benefit of their law enforcement and private citizen customers,” he said, “and look forward to the many more trials to continue to hold SIG Sauer accountable.”