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North Dakota woman sues ammo company after hunting accident causes injury

GRAND FORKS -- A Thompson, N.D., woman who had a rifle shell explode in her face on her first hunting trip is suing the company that made the ammunition, claiming that a defect in the design or production of the shell caused her injuries.

Sheri Sponsler, 46, was deer hunting near Edmore, N.D., on Nov. 11, 2007. When she shot at a doe, the brass casing holding the powder failed and exploded, blowing out the bottom of the gun's chamber and sending shrapnel into her face, eye and hand, according to a court complaint filed by Sponsler's attorney.

"The force of the explosion threw Sheri's head back, causing severe whiplash injury. Sheri immediately noticed that her ears were ringing immensely," the complaint reads.

The ammunition company, Hornady Manufacturing Co., based in Grand Island, Neb., denies any wrongdoing and has requested the case be dismissed. Hornady, founded in 1949, sells bullets in the U.S and around the world.

Sponsler's complaint was filed in federal court in November 2009. Both sides are scheduled to meet at a Feb. 25 hearing in Fargo.

The complaint says Sponsler's boyfriend, who, at the time of the incident, had taught hunter safety for about eight years, bought the ammo, a box of Hornady 60 shells, at Scheels sporting goods store in Grand Forks. The shells were for Sponsler to use in a Remington 220 Swift hunting rifle that her boyfriend had borrowed from an acquaintance because it was smaller and would have less recoil, the complaint states.

Sponsler and her boyfriend shot twice at a target using the shells Nov. 10, 2007, and Sponsler took two shots Nov. 11, 2007, before the gun backfired; on all four shots, they noticed no problems, according to the complaint.

The complaint says Sponsler suffered and continues to suffer health problems, including ringing in her ears, sensitivity to sound, headaches, a sensation of movement inside her head, scars on her hand and face, symptoms of nerve damage and severe pain in her head and neck. Her eye took more than a month to heal and required several procedures to remove the shrapnel, the complaint states. She is seeking more than $75,000 in compensation for pain and emotional distress, medical expenses, lost wages and legal fees.

The complaint asserts that "weak and/or bad brass was used in the design and/or manufacture of the shell casing of the ammunition," adding that Hornady was negligent in not making "a reasonable inspection or test to discover defects."

Hornady's attorneys say Sponsler's injuries were the result of simply an accident, the negligence of a party other than the company or misuse of the ammunition. Sponsler "knew and appreciated the risk inherent in her activities and voluntarily assumed the risk of injury from those activities," the company's response says.