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Millions of Americans play with paintball guns, which has led to lawsuits aimed at manufacturers and their marketing tactics. According to a number of lawyers representing plaintiffs in paintball cases, at least 20 cases are pending nationwide against paintball manufacturers and distributors. Many plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers and distributors deliberately market to young, inexperienced teen-agers, leading to serious injuries. In one of the first paintball liability cases to go to trial, attorney Michael O’Donnell of Denver’s Wheeler Trigg & Kennedy scored a defense win in Colorado. The case is being appealed. Travis v. Barton, Brass Eagle, Wal-Mart, et al., No. 00CV352 (Larimer Co., Colo., Dist. Ct.). The paintball shooter in the case, Justin Barton, 15, was in a car in 1998 with two other youths when he shot Jorel Lynn Travis, 14, who was standing outside a Fort Collins, Colo., ice cream parlor, with a paintball gun. The incident left Travis blind in one eye. She and her family settled with Barton, but her case against Brass Eagle Inc., the manufacturer of the gun, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which sold it, went forward. Paintball is a growing sport, with more than 7 million players, according to www.nationalpaintball.com/, an online seller of paintball equipment. Players fire capsules from large guns, also known as “markers,” that fire at 200 to 300 feet per second. The plaintiff’s strict liability and negligence complaint against Brass Eagle and Wal-Mart alleged the manufacture of a defective product and failure “to disclose the product’s hidden and unexpected power and risk of blindness if the directions are not followed.” Brass Eagle and Wal-Mart, both based in Bentonville, Ark., allegedly were negligent in respect to the “design, manufacture, user instructions, marketing, sale and inadequate warning.” Brass Eagle, the manufacturer of the marker, includes a safety warning with the gun that instructs owners to “always wear eye, face, and ear protection designed to specifically stop paintballs,” according to its Web site. Since Justin Barton had purchased the gun and had access to these warnings, the jury found in favor of the defendants, O’Donnell noted. SAFETY WARNINGS According to O’Donnell, the safety warnings are there to provide people with necessary precautions, including protective masks that cover the eyes and ears. O’Donnell said that although the impact may sting, the sport is safe. Plaintiff’s attorney Peter Dusbabek of Denver’s Montgomery, Kolodny, Amatuzio and Dusbabek sees the safety warnings as ineffective. “The warnings don’t comply,” Dusbabek said. Thousands of players have been injured, he said. He said that the targeting of minors presents an increased danger. In a 1997 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission registration statement, Brass Eagle said that it was expanding its market to include “less experienced” players who “may participate in paintball in private yards and other less remote areas.” The statement said that the company anticipated an increase of products liability suits. Dusbabek said that the risk of injuries significantly increases in off-range situations. Dusbabek acknowledged that the sport may be safe if played in a “controlled” situation, but he said that the young men who purchase a majority of the guns typically do not play in the controlled areas.

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