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Liability in Accidental Gun Shooting Cases

According to an investigation from the Associated Press and the USA Today Network, gun accidents caused the death of a child every other day during the first six months of 2016. True gun accidents fall under two categories of cause: product defects and user error. Accidental gun shootings can severely injure or kill someone in seconds. Determining liability can help injured individuals and survivors obtain compensation, but it can also help inform future accident prevention efforts.

Product Liability vs. Negligence in Accidental Shootings

After an accidental shooting, investigators must consider the reason behind the shooting. When toddlers find loaded weapons beneath a parent’s bed, the case involves an act or acts of negligence. When a firearm explodes at the firing range, the gun manufacturer is responsible. In other words, when human error or carelessness contributes to an accidental shooting, the case will fall under negligence-based personal injury laws. When a gun’s design, a manufacturing defect, or poorly constructed warnings and directions contribute to the shooting, the case falls under product liability laws.

Who Is Responsible in Negligent Shootings?

If a person’s carelessness contributed to the incident, the courts will consider several factors to determine liability. In most cases, either the gun’s owner or the person who discharged the firearm faces full responsibility for an incident. In some cases, a parent or a child may face some degree of responsibility.

In all negligence-based actions, a jury must determine if the gun’s owner used reasonable care when securing and/or using the weapon to prove negligence. Under Massachusetts gun laws, gun owners may not keep or leave loaded firearms in areas where an unsupervised child may gain access.

Examples of negligent shootings include:

  • A child discovers an unsecured, loaded firearm around the house and accidentally shoots himself or herself or others.
  • A hunter fails to keep the safety on a firearm and accidentally shoots a fellow hunter.
  • A gun owner fires into the air in celebration, and the returning bullet strikes a bystander.
  • A teenager purposefully accesses a parent’s locked firearm and accidentally discharges it, hitting himself or herself or others.

In each of these examples, the courts will evaluate the facts on a case-by-case basis. While you may automatically want to blame a gun owner or a parent for an accident, other factors may play into the determination of liability.

Holding Gun Manufacturers Accountable for Gun Defects

If a firearm owner or user engages in safe and reasonable practices and still suffers an injury while using a firearm, the courts must look elsewhere to assign liability. To hold a firearm manufacturer liable for an accidental shooting, the injured individual or surviving family members must prove defectiveness in one of three ways:

  • Inadequate warnings. Manufacturers must include all relevant and knowable information to minimize foreseeable risks. When they fail to include instructions about unloading a weapon or disengaging a firing pin, they may face responsibility for any resulting injuries.
  • Manufacturing defects. An extra piece of metal in the firing chamber or an incorrectly installed trigger can throw off the performance of the firearm. Manufacturers must accept responsibility for any unexpected incident that arises from a manufacturing defect. The manufacturer may not face strict liability for resulting injuries if the modification contributed to the incident.
  • Design defects. If a gun manufacturer could have invested in an alternative design and avoided the incident, the manufacturer will face responsibility for resulting injuries.

In product liability cases involving accidental shootings, plaintiffs must prove the gun design, build, or documentation directly contributed to the incident. While these cases often require extensive investigations, they can spur meaningful changes in gun manufacturing practices.

After an Accidental Shooting

Accidental shootings are incredibly sad because they are highly preventable. In the aftermath of an accidental shooting, preserve the firearm and consider speaking with a personal injury attorney about your options. Product liability and traditional negligence-based claims may help accidental shooting victims obtain a sense of justice and begin the recovery process.

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