There are serious legal liabilities that can come with gun ownership and use, especially anytime a firearm injures another person—whether it was done intentionally or even accidentally. If one person intentionally shoots another without legal justification, they can face criminal charges ranging from assault to murder, and may face serious jail time or worse. However, the shooter may also face civil liability for an intentional shooting. If the victim survives the shooting, the shooter may be forced to compensate the victim for medical expenses, lost wages, physical pain and suffering, and mental anguish. The shooter may also be forced to pay punitive damages or additional money paid to the victim to punish the defendant shooter and make an example out of them for the community at large. If the victim is killed, their family or next of kin may bring a wrongful death claim against the shooter to seek compensation for the loss of their loved one and to punish the defendant shooter for taking another human life.
A shooter can also face hefty civil liability if they accidentally shoot another person—whether the shooting occurred because the gun was fired when they did not mean to shoot it, or in a situation where they intended to fire the gun, but hit the wrong target. The victim of an accidental shooting has the right to sue the defendant shooter for monetary compensation for their injuries, just like in the case of an intentional shooting, but may only seek punitive damages under specific circumstances. If the defendant shooter “wantonly” fired the gun, meaning that they did not mean to harm someone, but fired the gun with a reckless or conscious disregard for the possibility that someone could be injured, then the shooter could be forced to pay punitive damages to their victim. If a person is killed because of an accidental shooting, then their family or next of kin would have the right to bring a wrongful death claim against the defendant shooter, just the same as with an intentional shooting.
Most liability insurance companies do not provide insurance coverage for criminal acts, so in the case of an intentional shooting, the victim or their family are often forced to seek compensation from the shooter’s personal assets. In the event that a shooting is unintended or accidental, a liability insurance policy – such as a homeowner’s insurance policy – may provide coverage to a victim. Please keep in mind that some liability policies may not provide coverage for injuries resulting from the ownership or use of a firearm even in the event of an accident. As such, gun owners should review the terms of their liability policy with their insurance agent and purchase an additional cover rider if necessary.