CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NEGLIGENT STORAGE OF FIREARMS

shotgun

Michael C., age 16, left his home in California shortly after 8:00 p.m. He took the family car, some credit cards, and his father’s Swedish Mauser military rifle equipped with a telescopic sight. About 6:00 the next morning he stationed himself on an overpass and started to fire at the passing vehicles. He shot and killed three people and wounded others. Michael then put the rifle to his head and killed himself.

Michael’s parents and Michael’s estate were sued for damages. It was alleged that Michael’s parents were negligent in making firearms available to Michael. It was further alleged they were negligent in their training, supervision and control of Michael. For the purposes of this blog, we will address the allegation of negligent storage of firearms.

Negligent Storage Of The Rifle In A Locked Cabinet

Michael’s father kept his rifle and its supply of ammunition in the family garage in a locked cabinet. Michael knew where the two keys to the cabinet were located. He used one of the keys to obtain the rifle.

A published California Appellate Court opinion addressed the legal issues presented by the above facts. The court permitted the case to go forward to a jury on the issue of Negligent Storage of the Rifle. The court set forth the following general principles in its decision: 1. “A…rifle is a lethal weapon whose sole function is to kill human beings and animals of comparable size. A person dealing with a weapon of this kind is held to the highest standard of care;” 2. “A majority of other jurisdictions have considered it actionable negligence for a person to leave a firearm in a place where he should foresee it might fall into the hands of a child.”

Absolute Liability For Permitting A Minor To Have A Firearm Or
Leaving A Firearm In A Place Accessible To The Child

In addition to the parents being sued for negligent safeguard of a firearm, the parents are subject to an additional basis for liability. California Civil Code section 1714.3 adopted by the California legislature in 1970 makes a parent liable in an amount up to $30,000.00 for injury or death to one person proximately caused by the discharge of a firearm by his child if the parent permitted the child to have the firearm or left it in a place accessible to the child. The amount can be $60,000.00 if more than one person was killed or injured. This is described as absolute liability and negligence does not have to be proved.

Grandfather Liable For Leaving Loaded Gun In An Unlocked Dresser Drawer

The opinion also referenced a case in Pennsylvania where a grandfather was held liable for injuries inflicted by his grandchild with a loaded gun which the child found in the grandfather’s bedroom in an unlocked dresser drawer. The court in Pennsylvania found the grandfather has a duty to exercise extraordinary care to see no harm would be visited upon others as a consequence of his conduct.

 

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