A Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputy is one of several people across the country suing gun manufacturer Sig Sauer for alleged negligence and deceptive marketing.
The deputy, 37-year-old Marcie Vadnais, is seeking $10 million in damages.
The Sig Sauer P320 pistol is widely used by police departments, the military and general public and is marketed for its safety. Sig Sauer is quoted in marketing material that the gun will not fire unless someone pulls the trigger.
But in 2016, when the manufacturer was closing a deal with the Army, the Army found that occasionally when the gun was dropped it would fire by itself. As a condition of the deal, Sig Sauer upgraded the firearms to fix the problem, but the company then sold the pre-upgrade version to the general public for several months, according to a CNN investigation.
In February, Vadnais arrived at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy for a general instructor course. The academy does not allow live rounds and weapons inside the facility, so the deputy began stripping off the firarm. As Vadnais began feeding her belt through the first tooth of the holster, her P320 fired one round and hit her right thigh, shattering her femur, according to court documents.
At no point did Vadnais touch the trigger, and the gun was inside and covered by the Sig-manufactured holster, the documents state.
Vadnais, a seven-year veteran of LCSO, now has a steel rod holding her femur in place and still has bone fragments and shrapnel in her leg. Doctors do not know the full extent of the damage, but they say she may never be able to walk or run normally again or return to her post, according to court documents.
Vadnais' Sig Sauer was not the upgraded version of the gun.
Since the incident, LCSO has changed out all P320 guns with the upgraded model, LCSO Media Relations Manager Kraig Troxell said.
Sig Sauer issued a statement last August offering to upgrade all guns for free, and the LCSO immediately agreed “in an abundance of caution,” Troxell said. The P320 is the standard issue sidearm for all 539 sworn LCSO personnel.
In Sig Sauer’s August statement, the company said the gun met industry and government safety standards, and “the recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond U.S. standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge.”
However, in the Loudoun case, the gun was not dropped, according to Troxell and to Vadnais’ court filings.
Vadnais’ lawsuit pointed out that while the P320 marketing emphasized that the gun would not fire without the trigger being pulled, the original owner’s manual said the weapon may fire without the trigger being pulled if it is dropped when the chamber is not empty.
It is standard procedure for all U.S. law enforcement agencies and the military, at a commander’s discretion, to carry pistols with a chambered round, and Sig Sauer was aware of this at the time it designed and manufactured all its pistols, including the P320, according to court documents.
The lawsuit also says Sig Sauer changed the language in its owner’s manual after a January 2017 case of a P320 gun going off by itself to say “careless and improper handling of any firearm can result in unintentional discharge.”
In addition to Vadnais’ case, a Connecticut SWAT team member said he dropped his holstered gun and it shot his knee in January 2017. A Georgia police officer said he slipped and fell, which set off his holstered P320 in October 2017, and an Orlando SWAT team member was leaving home March 29 to respond to a possible hostage situation when he dropped his holstered gun in his driveway and it discharged, shattering his tibia by his knee, CNN found.
According to the CNN investigation, four months went by from when Sig Sauer sold the upgraded guns to the Army and when they began selling the upgraded models to civilians. More than 500,000 guns without the upgrade were sold in this four-month period.
The company now only sends out the upgraded versions, but the original versions are still on the market in stores and through second-hand purchases, since the company did not recall the model.
Sig Sauer has said in court filings that it “denies any allegations that suggest that the P320 model pistol was subject to a recall or is otherwise defective.”