TARPON SPRINGS, Florida
- The photos tell a grisly tale: Amputated thumbs. Sliced thumbs. Thumbs with the tips cut off.
Nationwide, at least two dozen hunters claim serious thumb injuries from Barnett Crossbows. Although the Tarpon Springs-based company, the largest maker of crossbows in the country, put thumb guards on its popular Jackal models late last year, older models were still on store shelves during the holiday season in other parts of the country.
Crossbows have become increasingly visible in both popular culture and hunters' arsenals in recent years. According to the Archery Trade Association, which tracks crossbows' share of the overall bow market, "crossbows have steadily increased their presence, going from 14.9% in 2007, to 21.3% in 2009, to 24.9% in 2011 and to 30.9% in 2012."
But David Harville, an experienced hunter, is no longer a fan. In September, the drawstring of a Barnett Jackal crossbow sliced a deep gash in his thumb while he was hunting in the woods in his home state of Indiana. The drawstrings can fire an arrow at 325 feet per second and Harville said his thumb "was cut down to the bone."
"I was losing quite a bit of blood, so I had to put the thumb back over, wrap it in the shirt, and go to the emergency room," he said. "And it was about half an hour in the woods."
David Reynolds in Virginia was hunting with his 6-year-old son when he said his crossbow fired and sliced the tip of his thumb.
"So I looked and my thumb was hanging off," Reynolds said, adding his son's reaction: "'Daddy, it does't look good."
Doctors had to reconstruct the thumbs of both hunters with pins and screws.
The power and stiffness of a drawstring makes a crossbow an inherently dangerous product. Barnett crossbows are marked with warning stickers to explain that danger, and its owners' manuals carry the same warning.
"People injured with a crossbow haven't read the labels," Barnett's vice president of product design David Barnett said in a recent deposition. "People injured with a crossbow have no intention of looking at labels."
The company declined to speak to 10 Investigates because it faces lawsuits for negligence in design and marketing in multiple states, including nearly a dozen suits in Florida. The company denies negligence, but has settled several of the cases.
In a written statement, the company repeated its message to 10 Investigates that its crossbows are safe when used properly:
"Barnett Outdoors LLC prides itself on making high quality crossbows. Barnett's crossbows are for hunting and target practice, and can be used safely when handled properly. Our crossbows are accompanied by an owner's manual and extensive, common sense warnings."
However, the images in the statement and manual do not match the configuration of the Jackal model. Because the bow is front-heavy, hunters say it's natural to want to hold it where his or her thumb is in harm's way. When a hunter is looking through the weapon's sight, fingers or a thumb are not visible.
Reynolds, who is currently suing Barnett, said he called the company after his accident to see if there had been a recall of the product. A company representative asked him to read her the serial number.
"When I tell her that, she says they don't track it," he said.
Harville, who is also suing Barnett, hunts and traps to supplement his income. He says he called Barnett about his accident to get relief from his $10,000 in hospital and rehab bills. Instead, he said the company offered to give him a new bow if he'd send them the one that wounded him.
Both Harville and Reynolds said they filed complaints with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and received visits from federal investigators. The CPSC confirmed it is still investigating the Jackal injuries and provided a written statement:
"CPSC's SaferProducts.gov safety incident reporting site shows that reports of thumb injuries have been submitted for products manufactured by Barnett Outdoors, LLC. The incidents suggest serious injuries. CPSC has jurisdiction over these products and has an active compliance investigation regarding the safety of crossbows manufactured by Barnett Outdoors, LLC of Tarpon Springs, Fla."
READ: David Harville lawsuit
Brad Kizzia, who represents more than a dozen injured hunters filing lawsuits against Barnett said the issue is simple.
"They made an unreasonably dangerous product, and they're responsible for that," Kizzia said.