There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about whether parents should be held responsible when young people get access to guns and use them to intentionally shoot and kill others. However, what about the sadly too common incidents in which children access a parent’s gun and accidentally shoot someone?
Many states have gun owner responsibility laws that make it a crime for parents and other adults to leave guns unsecured and allow them to be held criminally liable for harm or death caused by a child who gets ahold of a weapon.
Louisiana, however, does not. One district attorney says that the only way to hold people criminally accountable, unless they possess the weapon illegally, is to prove negligence – which can be a challenge.
What’s required for a negligence lawsuit?
Parents can be held civilly liable, however, if their child gets their hands on their gun and shoots someone – accidentally or intentionally. Parents can generally be held responsible for the actions of a child that cause injury as long as the child is still a minor.
If victims or surviving family members file a negligence lawsuit, they have to show four things to be true:
- The parents had a duty of care (in this case, to keep the weapon away from their child)
- They breached that duty (through action or inaction).
- The harm occurred because of that breach.
- There are damages associated with that harm (such as medical expenses and pain and suffering).
Civil lawsuits, unlike criminal cases, don’t require proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a plaintiff to win. They need to show that a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the defendant is responsible.
In Louisiana, a civil lawsuit may be the only way to seek justice against parents whose child got ahold of a gun because of their actions (like leaving it out) or inaction (like not putting a lock on the cabinet where it was kept). It’s crucial to have sound legal guidance.