Judge sues earplug maker, Pharr shooting range

McALLEN — A local judge claims in a federal lawsuit that a trip to the shooting range more than two years ago left him with substantial permanent hearing loss.

After buying a pair of earplugs and visiting a local shooting range, Robert “Bobby” Flores said he lost 65 percent of the hearing in both ears, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

Flores filed suit against earplug makers Honeywell Safety Products USA Inc. and Shooting Academy of South Texas LLC — doing business as Point Blank Sporting Goods — which is the shooting range in Pharr where Flores visited, and where he claims his injuries stem from, court records show.

In the lawsuit originally filed in state district court in December 2017, Flores said he bought “Super Leight” shooter’s earplugs on Dec. 22, 2015, at a sporting goods store in McAllen.

“Text on the front of the box of earplugs advertises them as ‘ideal for shooting sports,’” the court record states. “Additional text on the front of the box assures that the earplugs provide a noise rating reduction of (‘NRR’) of 33 decibels.”

After the purchase, Flores traveled to a shooting range in Pharr called Point Blank Sporting Goods, owned by Shooting Academy of South Texas LLC, where he used the earplugs purchased beforehand.

“Plaintiff properly inserted the earplugs into both ears, as directed by the instructions on the side of the box of earplugs and entered the shooting range,” the suit states. “On the range, (Flores) fired a single box of ammunition with his Beretta pistol.”

Meanwhile, other people at the range, standing in adjacent lanes, were firing rifles and larger caliber pistols, the record states.

Flores further claims that upon finishing his session at the shooting range, he immediately felt a loss of hearing in both ears.

“The hearing loss in both ears (in the range of approximately 65 percent) has been diagnosed as permanent,” the lawsuit states.

Flores claims due to the permanent loss of hearing in both ears, he’s forced to wear hearing aids to conduct his duties as judge of the 139th District Court, the lawsuit states.

In his suit, Flores cites four different claims against Honeywell, among them was liability, stating that Honeywell is liable for his hearing loss because they are the manufacturer of the product. Additional claims include a marketing defect, stating that Honeywell “failed to give adequate warnings and instructions regarding the uses, limitations and dangers of its earplugs,” as well as a neglect claim based on the marketing defect claim, the court document states.

The claim Flores makes against the shooting range is that their location “posed an unreasonable risk of harm to Flores,” in that they “allowed patrons to fire rifles and large caliber pistols in close proximity to each other, without adequate equipment or systems for reducing high noise levels, and without adequately warning Flores of the dangers of high noise levels on its shooting range,” the record states.

Lawyers for the shooting range, in their response to Flores’ lawsuit, denied all allegations, and stated Flores’ hearing loss was due to his own “negligence” in that “he failed to exercise ordinary care, caution and prudence to avoid the incident and injuries at issue,” court records show.

Additionally, attorneys for the shooting range state that Flores’ injuries were a result of Honeywell’s earplugs, the suit states.

In another argument, the attorneys for the shooting range also claim the statute of limitations on this type of claim has expired, and that if Flores was injured, it was not because of their client, but by the other defendant, Honeywell in this instance, the record states.

In its response to Flores’ claims, counsel for Honeywell not only denies the claims Flores submitted, but additionally state that if Flores was injured, it “could be (the) injuries or damages were not” connected to the aforementioned events, the court document states.

Flores is seeking a judgment in excess of more than $1 million, the lawsuit states.

Parties in the matter are expected back in court May 1 for a hearing before U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa, court records show.

In a statement sent to The Monitor, Honeywell representatives did not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but said they stand behind the ability of their products.

“Honeywell stands behind the efficacy of all our safety products,” the statement from spokesman Mark Hamel reads.

A message for comment left for Flores’ attorney, and the attorney for Point Blank Sporting Goods went unreturned as of this posting.