Gun Negligence and Wrongful Death Claims
Firearm ownership is important for many people in Texas. According to CBS News, our state has more licensed gun owners than anywhere else in the country. Nearly half of the adults in Texas live in a home with at least one firearm. Of course, gun safety is of the utmost importance. When the proper safety precautions are not taken by all parties, guns can be deadly. Accidents are a serious problem. In Texas, any party whose negligence contributed to a firearm fatality may be legally liable. In this article, our Houston wrongful death lawyers provide an overview of gun negligence claims in Texas.Guns Contribute to Many Preventable Deaths Each Year
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 45,000 people were killed by firearms in the United States in 2020. Those deaths include criminal acts, intentional self-harm (suicides), and accidental discharges. The NSC cites data that shows that approximately 500 annual gun deaths are the result of accidental discharges. Many of these accidental deaths occur because of negligence. Texas defines negligence as the failure to take proper care. A third party’s negligence—such as a gun range’s failure to take adequate safety precautions or a property owner’s failure to provide adequate security—could also contribute to a preventable gun death.What is a Wrongful Death? (Texas Law)
A wrongful death is a type of civil legal claim. Under Texas law (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 71.002(b)), a wrongful death is broadly defined as one that occurred due to a “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” What constitutes improper conduct for purposes of the statute depends on the specific circumstances of the case. That being said, in a firearm death case, the surviving family members will generally need to establish that the defendant(s) acted in a negligent manner—meaning that they failed to take due care.An Overview of Parties That May Be Liable for Firearm-Related Wrongful Death
Every firearm-related fatality or serious injury requires a comprehensive investigation. Of course, there may be criminal liability for the person who fired the gun. At the same time, there may also be a civil legal claim—especially in cases where the gun was discharged accidentally, or the incident occurred because of inadequate safety precautions. Here is an overview of parties that may be liable for a firearm-related death in Texas:
- The Person Who Fired the Gun: Any person who picks up a firearm in Texas is responsible for using it in a safe manner. Guns are dangerous. Proper care must always be taken. Even if the person who fired the gun does not bear criminal liability—which they could even if the discharge was accidental—they can still face a civil lawsuit for wrongful death. However, there is a challenge with bringing a wrongful death claim against an individual. They may not have the resources or insurance coverage to cover wrongful death damages.
- The Owner of the Firearm: The gun owner may also bear liability for a firearm-related death. There are many circumstances in which the firearm owner may not be the person who discharged the firearm. In some cases, the gun owner may have irresponsibly (negligently) entrusted the dangerous weapon to a party that should not have had it. For example, a parent who negligently hands a gun to a teenager could face civil liability for a wrongful death claim if there is an accidental discharge or other shooting death.
- A Business or Property Owner Where Shooting Occurred: A third party can sometimes bear liability for a firearm-related death. In Texas, businesses and property owners have a responsibility to take adequate security precautions to protect their customers and other invitees. They may be legally liable for injuries (or deaths) that occur due to their failure to do so. For example, a large apartment complex in Houston with poor security measures in place could potentially face wrongful death liability for a fatal shooting that occurs on the premises on the grounds of negligent security.
- Gun Retailer or Gun Manufacturer (Very Difficult): You may be wondering if you can bring a negligence claim against a gun retailer or gun manufacturer in Texas for wrongful death. Although not impossible, it is important to emphasize that a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) provides significant liability protections to gun retailers and gun manufacturers that are otherwise compliant with federal firearms regulations. If a firearm itself is defectively manufactured and the owner is harmed, the manufacturer could face liability through a defective product claim. If a gun works as expected and someone is killed because of irresponsible use, the manufacturer that made that weapon is largely protected from liability under the PLCAA.
Nothing is more difficult than dealing with the loss of a close family member in an incident that never should have happened. Wrongful death compensation helps grieving families get justice, accountability, and much-needed financial support. Broadly speaking, wrongful death compensation in Texas is split into three categories:
- Economic Damages: Economic damages are actual, out-of-pocket losses suffered by the surviving family members. Some examples of economic damages include medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of financial support from the deceased.
- Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages compensate for intangible (but very real) losses suffered by the surviving family members. They may include loss of love, loss of consortium, and loss of companionship and society.
- Exemplary Damages: Often referred to as punitive damages, exemplary damages are designed to punish the grossly negligent (extremely outrageous) conduct of the defendant. They are granted in a narrow set of wrongful death claims in Texas.
At Thornton Esquire Law Group, PLLC, our Houston wrongful death attorney is a compassionate, justice-focused advocate for families. If your loved one was killed as a result of gun negligence, we are here to help. Give us a phone call at (713) 401-3998 or connect with us through our website to set up your free, no-commitment consultation. We represent grieving families in wrongful death cases in Houston, Harris County, and throughout the broader region in Southeastern Texas.