The family of a Henderson woman killed in 2014 when a handgun she dropped fired and struck her in the face has filed a lawsuit against the gun’s maker.

Melinda Orr died April 21, 2014, when she dropped a .380 caliber pistol on the ground. The bullet struck Orr in the face, fatally wounding her in the driveway of her own home.

The lawsuit alleges the gun’s manufacturer, Jimenez Arms Inc., knew the weapon’s manual safety was faulty and could allow the gun to fire if it was jostled or dropped on a hard surface.

In April 2014, Rusk County Sheriff’s Office ruled the shooting that killed Orr accidental following an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, Orr was transferring the pistol to her vehicle when she dropped the gun on the carport surface. “When the pistol struck the ground, it discharged, causing a bullet to strike” Melinda in the face, the lawsuit says.

Orr’s husband Carl and parents Billy Ray and Linda Jean Soape have sued Jimenez Arms, the Henderson, Nev.-based firm that manufactures low-priced handguns, including the one that misfired, killing Melinda Orr. 

The lawsuit was filed in November in Rusk County’s Fourth District Court.

Also named as a defendant by Henderson attorney Rusty Phenix is Shining Star Investments LLC, a Lewisville, Texas-based firm that serves as sole distributor for Jimenez weapons. 

Jimenez Arms manufactures the guns, and Shining Star markets and sells them, Phenix said.

While Jimenez Arms is owned by Paul Juan Jimenez, the lawsuit names three others from Texas as defendants: Bradley Allan Jennings of Lewisville; Kimberly Kay Jennings of Waco; and Janice K. Jennings of Argyle. A fourth, Rhonda Jennings, lives in Chino, Calif. The Jennings are related to Bruce L. Jennings, who owned Bryco Manufacturing. The assets of that firm, including thousands of unassembled gun frames, were bought in 2004 by Jimenez in a bankruptcy auction.

The lawsuit filed by Melinda Orr’s family claims the Jennings used Jimenez Arms and Shining Star Investments to “avoid liability for and/or payment of judgments in products liability lawsuits, civil lawsuits and/or personal injury lawsuits arising from defective products manufactured, distributed and/or sold by the defendants.”

The gun that killed Melinda Orr was bought at a gun show, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges a “known” design defect in the gun made it possible for “an unintended discharge of the pistol, and a critically insecure cocked condition which is subject to release upon impact or vibration causing unintended disengagement of an insecure sear and striker engagement resulting from dropping or jarring of the firearm.”

In the lawsuit, Melinda Orr’s family contends Jimenez Arms was obligated to “recall the product when defendants learned scientifically conducted testing in which the product and/or other Jimenez Arms model JA .380 caliber semi-automatic pistols of the same type and kind, or predecessor models on which the design of the product is based, in the same or essentially the same manner malfunctioned and/or unintentionally discharged…”

The lawsuit alleges the manufacturer “knew or should have known that such pistols were in fact unsafe and unreasonably dangerous under ordinary use” because of the tendency of the gun’s manual safety to fail. 

The State of California informed Jimenez Arms more than 10 years ago, Phenix said, the gun couldn’t be manufactured without changes in the design because the weapon failed the state’s “drop test.”

“California gave them an opportunity to fix it, and they just moved over to Nevada,” Phenix said. “They’re putting out a gun they know there’s a problem with the design, and they’re not changing it.”

A telephone call by the Henderson Daily News to the Jimenez Arms’ owner, Paul Jimenez, was not returned.

Bruce L. Jennings, former husband of Janice and father of Kimberly, Rhonda and Bradley, once built and sold handguns under the name Bryco Arms. In 2003, a $24 million judgment in a wrongful injury lawsuit in California forced Bryco into bankruptcy. Jimenez, a former plant manager at Bryco, purchased the firm’s assets at auction.

After California said the firm could no longer manufacture its JA NINE 9 mm pistol because it was unsafe, Jimenez Arms moved to Henderson, Nevada, in 2005, according to a story published in the Las Vegas Sun.

The lawsuit filed here in Rusk County by Melinda Orr’s family alleges Bradley Jennings, Kimberly Jennings and Rhonda Jennings are in control of both Jimenez Arms and Shining Star Investments and “used that control … to further [their] own personal interest in manufacturing, distributing, and/or selling known defective products in the state of Texas. Such entities are sham corporations and a mere alter ego of” the defendants.

The lawsuit contends Jimenez Arms, Shining Star Investments, Janice Jennings, Paul Juan Jimenez, Bradley Jennings, Kimberly Kay Jennings and Rhonda Jennings as well as trusts set up for the Jennings “conspired together and entered into a joint scheme for the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of known defective products and defective pistols in the state of Texas.”

“Such practices and conspiracies,” the lawsuit continues, “ultimately resulted in the products being purchased for Melinda Ann Orr and were a proximate cause of her injuries and ultimate death.”

The family’s lawsuit also contends a safer design would have prevented the gun from misfiring and killing Melinda Orr. The lawsuit also claims there was no direction in instructions accompanying the gun that would have notified a user of any danger.

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