In many of the cases we handle, there’s a fairly strong social consensus that those who commit negligent acts deserve to be held accountable to those they’ve harmed. But when it comes to incidents involving negligent use of firearms, there’s an unfortunate tendency to write them off as simply unavoidable, tragic accidents for which no one is actually responsible. While there are certainly some situations where this is the case, there are also plenty of situations viewed this way in which there’s a direct causal link between someone’s careless use of a gun and another person’s injury or death.
One case our firm litigated illustrates why it’s so important to hold irresponsible gun owners to account when their careless use or entrustment of weapons harms someone else. A young man and his friend were playing in a barn which had been converted into a game room, while a neighbor was firing a rifle at a target on the opposite side of a nearby pond. As a result, a bullet struck one of the young men in the barn, causing serious, life-threatening injuries.
Because the statements of witnesses diverge, it’s not entirely clear whether the neighbor was shooting directly at the barn or was firing at the target when his bullet ricocheted off the pond surface and into the structure. But whichever description of the facts was accurate, the projectile wound up striking one of the two young men, critically injuring him.
Fortunately, the youth survived his injuries, and we were able to successfully resolve the case, winning his family compensation for the physical and emotional suffering, as well as the long-term medical costs, resulting from the incident.
Our argument in this case was based on a section of the law on firearms liability known as negligent operation. Essentially, this means that the person operating a weapon capable of serious injury or death has what the law calls a duty of care to do so responsibly to avoid endangering others. If they fail to do so and someone is harmed as a result, the person responsible can be held accountable through our civil justice system.
In the case of the man firing from across the lake, he had a duty not to fire without knowing whether there might be people within range of his gun, and not to fire at a target that had potential for ricochet. Part of responsible firearm ownership is being familiar with and practicing all safety rules required to prevent innocent third-parties from being injured or killed.
Just as with driving a car or serving someone alcohol, owning and using guns is one of those activities that can easily become dangerous if not done with adequate caution and respect for the risks. And when someone doesn’t, our firm is ready to make sure they pay the price.