Liability When Shootings Occur Involving Children Playing With Firearms
As Congress and the President continue the debate about the merit and Constitutionality of additional gun controls, it is an appropriate time to discuss the liability rules that apply when children are accidently shot when playing with firearms. There can be no dispute that sometimes accidental shootings involving children occur when insufficient care is exercised in securing a firearm so that it is inaccessible to children.
A firearms accident last week brought this issue into focus when a 6-year-old boy accidently discharged a rifle shooting his 4-year-old neighbor. This tragic accident followed an incident only a few days earlier in which the wife of a sheriff was shot and killed by a 4-year-old according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
Most states have laws that impose vicarious liability on parents for the intentional or malicious acts of children that cause injury or property damage. These laws vary dramatically depending on the state in which you live. Under Georgia O.C.G.A. § 51-2-3, liability is imposed on parents for the cost of medical expenses and property damage that results from the willful or malicious acts of their minor child. However, the damage are extremely limited with a maximum exposure of $10,000 plus costs. The justification for imposing liability on a parent in this situation is that it is the duty of parents to educate and supervise their children. In some states, there is a minimum age that a child must reach before liability is imposed on a parent based on vicarious liability for an intentional tort.
Liability may also be based on the parent’s negligent supervision when a firearm is accessible to a small child. Parents have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that children do not have the ability to access or use dangerous weapons like firearms. When imposing this type of liability, the court will look at the measures taken to supervise the child and to secure the firearm. A parent who simply put the firearm on a high shelf and left a child unattended would be more likely to be found to have exercised negligent supervision than a parent who secured the gun in a gun safe and did not know that the child had discovered the combination.
Whatever the federal government decides about the appropriateness of additional restrictions on gun control laws, accidental shootings involving children will still occur because people make mistakes and get careless. Firearm accidents can have a devastating impact on shooting victims and their families. If you or someone you love has been involved in an accidental or intentional shooting, we urge you to contact the firearm accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates so that we can evaluate your claim and advise you of your rights.
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