Hunting Accidents: When an Outing Goes Wrong, What Happens?
Hunting is one of the safest recreational activities out there. According to Marisa Lee Futral, Hunting Safety Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, a person is more likely to be injured riding a bike or playing volleyball than hunting. However, when hunting injuries do occur, the stakes are much higher.
And they do occur.
According to the International Hunter Education Association, approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year, and just under one hundred of those accidents result in death. In Wyoming, we have our share of hunting accidents – hell, we’re a proud hunting state. We could mention the freak accident in November 2014 in the Shoshone National Forest, where a firefighter lost both legs. Or last year, when a 13-year-old boy was killed in Oceana County while hunting with two other people. There were people shot in August, September, and November of 2017 in Wyoming hunting accidents, so it appears we’re on a roll.
So, what happens after you’ve been accidentally shot?
Who Is Responsible?
It’s quite simple. The person responsible for a hunting accident is the person behind the trigger. Regardless of whether the shooter thought he saw something else or made another unintentional mistake, the responsibility falls on him. It is up to the hunters to follow all gun safety rules and precautions at all times. When they fail to do so, they may be considered negligent and be held liable for the victim’s injuries.
Is It Considered Personal Injury?
The words mentioned above, “negligent” and “liable,” bring personal injury to the forefront of the conversation. Personal injury law applies to an accident when a person who was negligent (or careless) inflicts injury on another. Just as you would want to seek justice after being wrongfully hit by a car or hurt by faulty equipment at work, you would also want justice after being shot through no fault of your own. If a hunter failed to comply with gun safety rules or hunting area regulations, and you were injured as a result, you deserve compensation. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to fight to make sure you are compensated for physical and emotional suffering.
Might It Be Premises Liability?
In simple terms, “premises liability” makes a person who owns a piece of land responsible for certain injuries suffered by people while they are on the land. For premises liability to apply, there must also be negligence, meaning the property owner didn’t correct foreseeable dangers and someone was injured as a result.
In November 2017, a woman was hit by bullet fragments while riding her bicycle through a public park in New Hampshire. Does premises liability apply here? Could the woman cite the city in her personal injury case? Probably not; both walking and hunting were allowed in the same park! Whether or not this was a good idea is a larger debate. It appears that the city itself didn’t not do anything wrong, but it is impossible to know without more details.
Landowners who allow hunting on their property should identify hazardous conditions, and put up signs or fencing to make people aware of all activities occurring on the land. If they fail to make reasonable accommodations like these, they may be considered liable if someone’s hurt.
What If You Are Shot on Your Own Property?
If you are shot on your own property, the hunter responsible may be both criminally and civilly liable if he acted negligently. A hunter in Maine was charged with manslaughter after fatally shooting a woman on her own property. The hunter failed to identify his target before shooting—he thought he saw the hindquarters of a deer, but didn’t wait to see—and now faces 30 years in prison.
When Does a Hunting Accident Become Criminal?
Whether or not to charge a hunter who accidentally shot another person is a difficult choice for prosecutors to make. However, if it can be proven that the hunter violated cardinal hunting safety rules, a criminal charge may be brought against him or her—often manslaughter or negligent homicide.
Hunters who accidentally shoot people almost always fail to identify their target before shooting. This is exactly what happened in the example above and in November 2017, when another hunter shot and killed a woman walking her dogs. The man violated two safety rules: he continued hunting after sunset, and he failed to identify his target before shooting. He was arraigned on the criminal charge of second-degree manslaughter in early December. If a hunter is criminally convicted or pleads guilty in a criminal case, he or she will automatically be found liable in a later civil court case for damages. Now, this is a horrible fate, for most hunters are traumatized by the accident that took someone’s life.
As you probably learned as you made your way through this article, hunting accidents and the subsequent actions taken in civil and criminal court are complicated. A knowledgeable Wyoming catastrophic injury attorney can help cut through the emotions and complexities to ensure that you receive compensation if you have been the victim of a hunting accident. For more information about your specific situation, speak to Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., at (307) 257-7800. We offer a free case strategy session, and you only pay us at the end of your case if we get money for you.
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