Liability for Gun Accidents and Injuries: How to Seek Compensation

Gunshot victims and their families have a right to fair compensation under the law. Learn how to pursue the settlement you deserve after a gun accident.

Thousands of Americans are injured by gun accidents every year. But just because a serious or fatal injury was unintentional doesn’t mean there are no legal or financial consequences.

Gun accident liability, meaning the legal responsibility to pay for the gunshot victim’s damages, may fall to the firearm owner, the person who fired the gun, the firearm seller, or even the gun manufacturer.

Gunshot victims and their families are often entitled to financial compensation for their injuries, expenses, and emotional distress. If you or a loved one were injured in a gun accident, you need to know how to build a strong insurance claim and legal case.

Common Causes of Gun Accidents

Inadequate Training: The number of firearms types is vast, ranging from BB guns to high-precision sniper rifles. Knowing the proper way to handle a firearm is essential. Without proper training in the use and care of firearms, the probability of gun accident injuries can rise dramatically.

Lack of Adult Supervision: Parents who fail to secure firearms out of the reach of children are inherently negligent. In the unfortunate event a child gets hold of a firearm and discharges it, causing injury or death, the gun owner may be criminally liable. Additionally, the injured victim or their family can seek compensation in civil court.

Reckless Firearm Handling: Passing firearms back and forth, aiming guns and playing at shooting, failing to keep the safety engaged, and celebratory firing into the air are some examples of reckless behavior.

Hunting Accidents: Gun accidents while hunting can happen when the hunter fails to positively identify the target while shooting or failing to maintain a safe firing zone. People who fail to wear orange-blaze apparel while in hunting zones are at increased risk of being mistaken for game.

Improper Maintenance: Dirt and debris buildup in barrels of poorly maintained firearms may block ammunition discharge, resulting in rupture-type explosions.

Improper Use of Ammunition: Using the wrong caliber or size ammunition, or poorly made reloaded or repacked cartridges can lead to dangerous firearm malfunctions.

Intoxication: Accidental firearm discharge after consuming alcohol or other drugs is a leading cause of gun injuries. Persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol have poor judgment and are prone to make mistakes, for example leaving live rounds in the chamber, goofing off while holding the gun, or stumbling and falling while holding a loaded gun.

Poor Range Management:  Gun firing ranges are loud and busy places. It’s common to find law enforcement officers, business tycoons, and soccer moms standing a foot or more apart from each other with weapons loaded and ready.

Injuries or death from accidental weapon discharges are rare, but they have happened. More common gun range injuries include punctured eardrums or injuries caused by slipping and falling on ejected shell casings and leaked gun oil.

Manufacturer Defects: Gun owners expect their firearms to function correctly and according to model specifications. When a firearm unexpectedly discharges or breaks apart, causing injuries, the manufacturer and the store where the owner purchased the firearm may be made to pay under product liability laws.

Grounds for a firearms product liability claims may include:

  • Manufacturing defects: A poorly bored barrel, or an incorrectly mounted trigger can undermine the performance of the firearm. Manufacturers are often liable for injuries caused by a manufacturing defect.
  • Design defects: If a firearm producer could have modified the design to avoid accidental firing, the producer may be liable for any resulting injuries.
  • Insufficient warnings: Manufacturers must include all relevant safety information with their products. Failing to include critical information, such as instructions for unloading a weapon or engaging the safety catch, may make the manufacturer responsible for resulting injuries.

Finding Fault for Gunshot Accidents

Most gun injuries and death happen unintentionally when a gun is either accidentally or negligently fired.

Understanding Accidental vs. Negligent Gun Accidents

The law recognizes a difference between accidental and negligent discharges. It’s more difficult to succeed in a personal injury claim when the discharge was accidental rather than negligent.

Accidental discharge covers an array of circumstances. Anyone can accidentally discharge a firearm while cleaning it, transporting it in a car, or carrying it. Failing to engage the safety, dropping the firearm, or grasping the firearm with a finger on the trigger are additional causes of gun accidents.

Accidents can happen even when the gun owner had proper training and took all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of others.

For example, as an owner placed his gun in a locked cabinet, it slipped out of his hands, fell to the ground and discharged, hitting his friend in the leg.

In another example, during a training session, a student’s finger slipped off the trigger guard onto the trigger, causing the gun to discharge and hit the instructor.

In both cases, the person holding the gun can argue they took all proper safety precautions, so the discharges were accidental.

Negligent discharge occurs when the gun owner or shooter fails to exercise reasonable care and precaution when handling the gun, thereby endangering the safety of others.

Let’s say that before placing his gun in a locked cabinet, a gun owner consumed several beers. Then the gun slipped out of his hands, fell to the floor and discharged, hitting his friend.

When the police responded, they administered a breath test, which showed the gun owner was under the influence.

In another example, during a training session, the student thought it would be funny to aim at the instructor and say, “Bang!” While raising the gun, the student’s finger slipped off the trigger guard onto the trigger, causing the gun to discharge and hit the instructor.

In these cases, the gun accidents were caused by behavior that unreasonably jeopardized the safety of others, so the discharges were due to negligence.

Gun Ownership Restrictions

It may not matter whether a shooting injury was accidental or negligent if the firearm shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Illegal possession of a firearm is a criminal offense.

Under the federal Gun Control Act, you are not allowed to possess a firearm if you:

  • Were convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year
  • Are a fugitive from justice
  • Are hooked on or use any illegal substance
  • Have been committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as mentally ill
  • Are an illegal alien
  • Were dishonorably discharged from military service
  • Have renounced U.S. citizenship
  • Are subject to a court restraining order that involves your intimate partner or your partner’s children
  • Were convicted of domestic violence

American states have their own firearm statutes that may be more restrictive than federal laws. Find the firearm rights and restrictions for your location: Gun Laws by State.

Build a Strong Gun Injury Claim

Depending on the circumstances, gun accident victims have the right to seek compensation for their damages from negligent gun owners, shooters, or manufacturers. Damages can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Out-of-pocket medical expenses
  • Lost wages, including sick days and vacation time used during recovery
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral expenses

You may file a claim against the gun owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy, or hire an attorney to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your damages.

Either way, your case will be stronger when you collect good evidence from the start.

Witnesses to a shooting can be powerful allies. Ask anyone who saw or heard what happened to give a written statement. Any kind of paper will do, just remind them to sign and date each page.

Example: Helpful Witness Statement

Your neighbor’s 13-year-old son Paul shot your son in the face with a BB gun. Paul’s parents said their son couldn’t have been involved because he was at home playing video games at the time of the shooting.

Fortunately, another neighbor, Margaret was walking her dog when she witnesses the shooting. Margaret provided a written statement verifying that Paul had been shooting at birds when he suddenly pointed and fired the BB gun at your son.

Security cameras can produce graphic evidence in an injury claim. Most gun ranges have security cameras, as do many parking lots and public buildings. Ask the range or building manager to preserve any camera footage taken on the day of the accident.

You aren’t likely to get your hands on the footage without a subpoena, but your attorney can.

Proof of damages is the basis of any personal injury claim. Without proof of real damages, there’s no claim. You can’t file a claim because a gun owner handled a gun recklessly in front of you or your children, or because you thought your gun safety instructor wasn’t a good teacher. You must present evidence of real damages for your injury claim to succeed.

Gather copies of all medical records and bills, including ambulance expenses, receipts for out-of-pocket medical expenses, and a statement of lost wages. The medical notes will confirm the extent of the injuries. Medical costs and lost wages are used in compensation calculations.

Accusations of Victim Blame

The insurance company or the shooter’s attorney may try to place some or all the blame on the shooting victim, especially if alcohol or horseplay was involved. If they succeed in proving shared blame, your compensation may be denied or reduced.

Contributory Negligence rules affect injury claims in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. If the victim shares as little as one percent of the blame for the shooting, they will use a pure contributory negligence argument to deny your claim.

Comparative Negligence or modified comparative negligence is used in most states. Under comparative negligence rules, you have the right to pursue an injury claim even if you’re partially to blame for your injuries:

Pure comparative negligence states allow the victim to seek compensation even if they’re 99 percent to blame for their injuries.

Under modified comparative fault rules, the amount of compensation is reduced in proportion to the victim’s share of the blame. You may be denied compensation if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for the circumstances of the shooting.

Attorneys Win Difficult Injury Cases

If you’re lucky enough to have completely recovered from minor gun accident injuries, the gun owner’s homeowner or business insurance may offer Med-pay coverage for medical expenses up to $5,000, depending on the policy limits. Med-pay claims do not require proof of negligence.

Med-pay won’t cover any amount for pain and suffering. If your medical expenses exceed the Med-pay limit, you will have to prove negligence to reach the homeowners’ liability coverage.

You can probably handle a minor injury claim without retaining an attorney. When giving your statement to the insurance adjuster, don’t say anything that would suggest you contributed to your injuries. Avoid statements like, “We had a couple of beers,” or “The range guy told me the gun was too large for me.”

Calculate your compensation by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering. You probably won’t get anything for pain and suffering, but it won’t hurt to include it with your first demand.

Send your written demand along with copies of all your bills, receipts, and any other evidence you’ve collected.

We’ve made it easy with our sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.

Unfortunately, most gun injuries are quite serious. You’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near fair compensation for wrongful death claims, severe or permanent injuries, or cases involving multiple at-fault parties.

Attorneys can file lawsuits, cut through corporate red tape, and use litigation tactics to get critical information about the responsible parties that you just can’t access on your own.

There’s too much at stake to tackle a serious gun accident case without expert legal support. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you and your family.

Gun Accident Claim Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>