Accidental Shootings Can Be Prevented.
America has a long and fabled history of gun ownership. Our Constitution protects our right to keep and bear arms for personal protection, hunting and even sport. Whatever your opinion about the politics of gun control, one thing is certain – Pennsylvanians take full advantage of our right to own and possess firearms. No one knows exactly how many guns are owned by private citizens in this country, but estimates put the number in excess of 200 million. What we do know is that every year thousands of Americans are injured by gunshots.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 31,224 people died as a result of firearm incidents in the U.S. in the year 2007 alone. 17,000 of these deaths were ruled suicide. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans suffered non-fatal gunshot injuries, a large percentage of which were due to accidents. Pennsylvania is no different. Sadly, we all know stories of people who have been tragically injured or killed when a gun was accidentally fired. Sometimes these are hunting accidents that happen even with experienced and careful hunters. Often, however, people are injured simply because a gun gets into the hands of a person or child who lacks the sufficient training or judgment to handle a gun properly.
If you or your loved one has been injured by a gunshot, you should speak with an attorney from Fairlie & Lippy who has experience in handling gunshot cases. You may be entitled to recover money damages from the shooter, the property owner, the gun owner, or even the store that originally sold the gun. Some common causes of gunshot accidents include:
- Improper handling or storage of the gun
- Failing to use a gun lock or gun safe
- Failing to restrict access to a loaded gun
- Handling a gun under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Improper training
- Firing a gun while unaware of the surrounding areas
- Improper gun maintenance
- Straw man purchases, where a person legally authorized to buy firearms does so with the intent to distribute them to persons not authorized to carry guns
Modern ammunition is designed to shoot a bullet from a firearm and penetrate the target. If the target is a human body, the damage from the bullet can obviously be tremendous. Gunshots can cause injuries to the tissue, muscles, nerves, bones and organs. Gunshots are now the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries. A gunshot can obviously cause not only a tremendous amount of physical and psychological damage, but also large economic damages.
Pennsylvania authorities should be contacted for intentional, or even reckless, acts that cause injuries. Criminal charges will then be handled through the police and state attorneys’ offices. However, civil damages are available even for intentional injuries. The key consideration is, once you have a judgment against the wrongdoer, will you be able to recover any actual money. In most cases, the only damages you can recover in a civil suit is money damages, which are always a poor substitute for your health and well-being. Further, many people and businesses are “judgment proof,” meaning that a judgment against them may in practice be useful. Lawyers and collection agencies specialize in judgment recovery, but this process always takes time and money, and sometimes there is simply little or no money to be had.
What if you’re injured by an accident? Accidental shootings can sometimes be covered by insurance. Insurance policies such as general liability or homeowners policies can apply depending upon the facts of the case. For instance, a homeowner’s policy may provide coverage in a situation where a person got hold of a gun and accidentally fired it, injuring someone. Other accidents involving the factors listed above can trigger insurance coverage as well.
Pennsylvania courts recently held that a gun shop can be liable for an accidental shooting involving a “straw buyer.” The case involved two Philadelphia children who found a handgun stashed under a parked car. One of the children, treating the gun as a toy, pointed it at his 7 year-old friend, pulled the trigger and shot the boy in the head, killing him.
The gun was eventually traced back to a local gun store, which sold the gun to a regular customer. The customer was what police call a straw man purchaser. This is a person who has no criminal background or other restriction on buying guns. However, the straw man has no intention of using the gun, but rather intends to re-sell the gun to persons who cannot legally purchase guns. In this case, the straw man had purchased so many guns that the gun store should have been suspicious of his motives. In fact, he testified that the store had to know that he was re-selling the guns. Police speculate that the straw man sold the gun to a drug dealer, who stashed it under the car. The gun store settled the case with the family of the boy for an undisclosed amount, a recognition that gun shops cannot willfully ignore the dangers that guns can present to our society if they get into the wrong hands without accepting some responsibility for the injuries they cause.