Bridge City, TX – A Texas detective is suing Sig Sauer for $15 million after the holstered P320 duty pistol she put inside her purse discharged and shot her in the leg.
“I picked up my bag, my keys were on top,” Bridge City Detective Brittney Hilton told ABC News. “As I walked around my desk, my purse swings out and it shoots out the bottom of my bag.”
“Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have believed that my gun would just have shot me,” Det. Hilton said of the December 2020 incident. “Gun owners don’t want to think that their gun can just go off without the trigger being pulled.”
The 11-year department veteran said she initially didn’t realize what had happened.
“I took one step, and I felt this pain. It felt like a hot rod of metal had just been placed not only in my private, but through my leg,” Det. Hilton told ABC News.
The bullet traveled through-and-through, exiting her lower buttocks, she said.
“I was cold at some points, shaking. The fear kind of takes over, the adrenaline takes over,” Det. Hilton told ABC News. “I just said, ‘Am I going to die?’”
She said the round came within one millimeter of killing her.
“There’s never a point that I’m really not in pain unless I’m laying down,” the detective told ABC News.
The Bridge City Police Department (BCPD) sent Det. Hilton’s duty weapon to Sig Sauer after the incident so the manufacturer could examine the gun to determine what caused the discharge.
The company concluded that “a foreign object entered the trigger guard [causing] the pistol to discharge,” ABC News reported.
Det. Hilton said it would be nearly impossible for an object to have put enough pressure on the trigger to detonate a round while the weapon was holstered and inside her purse.
“I’m very pro-gun,” she said. “But this gun is so dangerous, and it just scares me that there are so many out there that don’t know the potential it has to go off.”
A total of 10 lawsuits are currently pending against Sig Sauer over the P320, ABC News reported.
Several of the plaintiffs are veteran law enforcement officers with extensive firearms experience.
“It’s not credible to claim that people with this amount of training, this amount of skill are all shooting themselves,” said attorney Jeffrey Bagnell, who represents Det. Hilton and several other law enforcement plaintiffs. “These are experts. It’s happening all over the country…you would have to conclude there’s a problem with the product, not with the people.”
According to Det. Hilton’s lawsuit, there have been 54 reported instances of the P320 firing on its own over the past five years, ABC News reported.
These incidents have occurred in 22 different states as well as Washington, DC.
In August of 2017, Sig Sauer began offering an optional upgrade to the P320 for anyone who purchased their firearm prior to that date, according to a notice on the company’s website.
“The upgrade program is completely free of charge to all customers,” the notice reads. “SIG SAUER is even covering the cost of shipping and returning your P320 pistol to you!”
“Based on its own internal testing and input from various law enforcement, government and military customers, SIG SAUER modified the design of its P320 pistol to improve its safety, reliability and overall performance,” the company noted. “Specifically, the upgraded P320 has lighter internal components, including a new thinner-profile trigger and a lighter sear and striker. These upgrades will enhance the protection against unintended discharges if the pistol is dropped.”
The upgrade also includes a mechanical disconnector in order to help protect “against cartridge failure events,” Sig Sauer said.
The company said more than 100,000 P320 handguns have been upgraded since the program went into effect.
Newer P320s, like the one Det. Hilton was issued, already had the upgrade implemented before they were sold, ABC News reported.
“Customers that have taken advantage of the program have been extremely pleased with the enhanced performance, reliability and safety, and have appreciated the ease and turnaround time of this upgrade process,” the gun manufacturer said. “SIG SAUER encourages all P320 owners whose pistols do not include the upgraded design to participate in the free upgrade program.”
Marcie Vadnais, a deputy in Loudoun County, Virginia, previously sued Sig Sauer for $10 million and received a settlement one day after she testified before a jury about being shot in the leg by her holstered weapon in 2018, ABC News reported.
Her weapon did not have the upgrade.
According to the lawsuit, as she fed the belt through the holster’s first tooth, her P320 somehow “fired one nine-millimeter bullet, which hit her in the upper right thigh,” the Blast reported.
“At no time during this incident did she touch the trigger, which at all times was inside and covered by a SIG-manufactured holster,” the lawsuit read.
The round shattered the deputy’s femur “in several places” and caused “massive blood loss and other internal injuries,” according to the suit.
Deputy Vadnais, a 7-year veteran of the force, still has shrapnel and bone fragments embedded in her leg. A steel rod now holds her femur in place.
She said Sig Sauer misled the public regarding the safety of the P320.
“We’ve designed safety elements into every necessary feature on this pistol,” the gun manufacturer said in an advertisement, according to the deputy’s suit. “From the trigger, to the striker and even the magazine, the P320 won’t fire unless you want it to.”
In April of 2016, the U.S. Army put the P320 through drop testing as part of a potential $580 million contract with Sig Sauer – but there was a problem, CNN reported.
“During drop testing in which an empty primed cartridge was inserted, the striker struck the primer causing a discharge,” the Department of Defense noted in a report, according to CNN.
In order to keep the deal, Sig Sauer fixed the problem by using “lightweight components in the trigger group mechanism,” the report said.
The upgrade was implemented by the time the military ran testing trials on the P320 in April of 2017, but the gun manufacturer continued to sell the pre-upgrade version of the weapon to the general public for at least four months, according to CNN.
By the time the company offered the fix to civilians in August of 2017, over 500,000 pre-upgraded P320s had been sold to the general public.
The “voluntary upgrade” was “presented to the public as purely optional, not urgent, and not mandatory,” Deputy Vadnais’ lawsuit read, according to the Blast.
The program was touted as a means by which “to make existing commercial versions of the P320 ‘better’ by installing a much lighter trigger, and internal disconnect switch, and an improved sear to prevent accidental discharges,” the lawsuit said.
Deputy Vadnais is continuing to push for the weapon to be taken off the market, ABC News reported.
“I saw what it did to me. I saw what it did to my family,” she told the news outlet. “And I don’t want that to happen to anybody else.”
So far, Sig Sauer has refused to recall the handgun.
“If this were a car, a phone, a refrigerator, it would’ve been recalled long, long ago,” Bagnell told ABC News. “So, I think it is unconscionable, given the number of incidents of this gun defectively discharging without a trigger pull would necessitate that someone order it to be recalled, and only Sig can do that.”
Bagnell said the upgrade has clearly not fixed the problem.
“The defect has not been addressed,” he insisted.
Det. Hilton said many of her fellow BCPD officers are still issued P320s while the agency gets new duty weapons ordered for them, ABC News reported.