Modern equipment has made the ancient sport of archery more accessible to the general public than ever before. Casual fans can rent bows and arrows from any number of public facilities, and most offer lessons for children, adults, and everyone in-between. Those more serious about the craft can compete in competitions all over the country. Bow and arrow hunting is so common that hunter-archers have their own specified seasons in Alabama.
Of course, using a bow for anything from soft-target practice in a controlled facility to taking down wild deer poses inherent risks. Using any sort of lethal weapon is not something to be undertaken lightly, and only those properly trained should handle a compound bow. Equipment must also be selected correctly for the individual archer and its intended use. Bows, even plastic, can change shape and strength over time, and arrows that are used incorrectly or left to warp in the weather can fail when fired.
However, there is one type of arrow that can, and does, fail without warning even when properly cared for, causing sometimes irreversible muscle and nerve damage. Carbon-fiber arrows have been the subject of several high-profile lawsuits in the last ten years due to their unpredictability and the inherent danger of the material.
One such case was handled by myself and my law partner, Eric Artrip. Our client was an experienced archer who had been shooting a bow for many years. He had recently purchased a brand-new set of carbon-fiber arrows and took them out for target practice. After testing and inspecting them, he released his fifth arrow from a properly-set bow when the arrow exploded into his hand, lodging innumerable carbon-fiber fragments in the hand and wrist that had been holding the bow.
Injuries from carbon-fiber arrows can be particularly gruesome. The carbon-fiber often shatters into dozens or hundreds of tiny slivers that become embedded in the archer or those near them. And, unlike aluminum arrows, these small fragments are not visible under an x-ray, which makes removing all of the small pieces almost impossible. Surgeons must rely on their own sight, and as such may never be able to remove every sliver of the arrow.
Archers that experience these kinds of injuries are often left with permanent nerve, tendon, or muscle damage. Some never recover the full use of their hand. This is not to mention the severe trauma that can result from such an injury. Many archers, even if recovered, say that they are so scared of an incident happening a second time that they are never able to fire a bow afterwards.
Another suit for the same kind of injury brought in Ohio in 2015 resulted in a jury verdict awarding a substantial amount. Rick Pratt filed the suit against Easton Technical Products, maker of the carbon-fiber arrow, alleging a manufacturing defect caused his injury. The jury agreed and, in the end, awarded Mr. Pratt both compensatory and punitive damages against Easton.
Manufacturers of these kinds of arrows, such as Easton, the manufacturer of the arrow that harmed our client, warn that they should always be examined and tested before firing. These tests, such as the “flex test,” are intended to help find any weakness in the shaft (the long middle section) of the arrow before it is fired. Any weakness or damage in the shaft can cause it to break and shatter before leaving the bow as it is pressed by the string, as happened to our client.
The flex test, as instructed on Easton’s website, calls for an archer to take each arrow at the tip and fletching (the “feathers” at the end) and bend it away from the body while listening for any crackling or crunching noises and looking for any visible cracks or damage. Arrows like these are not cheap, and unless they are used for hunting, are often shot for months or years before they are retired. If used correctly against a soft target, arrows can still be damaged by contact with other arrows, the hard edge of a target, or improper storage or transportation.
The flex test helps to ensure that carbon-fiber arrows retain their structural integrity before they are fired for the second, tenth, or hundredth time. However, it is not perfect. Sometimes the arrow has weaknesses that won’t become apparent until after it is fired. And, sometimes a brand-new arrow can be damaged, like the one that harmed our client.
If you have been harmed by a carbon-fiber arrow, we’d like to hear from you. Mastando & Artrip has handled several cases like those described above, as well as other product liability cases. We are plaintiff attorneys, which means that we work for people, not companies. We are committed to ensuring that those harmed by failures like these receive just compensation. Give us a call at 256-532-2222 for a consultation.
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