$300,000: Hunter Killed When Ranch Guest Negligently Mishandles Rifle

CASE DESCRIPTION: Defendant was guest on Plaintiff’s ranch for the purposes of recreational hunting. Defendant kept in the back seat of his truck a loaded rifle pointed at the back seat with the safety off. At one point the Decedent opened the back door of the truck causing the rifle to discharge. Decedent’s family brought suit against Defendant for negligence and wrongful death. The Defendant disputed liability and claimed that the Decedent was comparatively negligent.

RESULT: $300,000.00 total settlement

On December 3, 1991, Defendant William S. was a guest at the Texas ranch of Decedent, Richard B. for purposes of recreational hunting. Defendant William S. owned, and had with him, a Valmet Model 408 over-under gun with interchangeable barrels. The gun had a safety device which could be disabled with a turn of a screw, for purposes of skeet shooting. (Skeet shooters often choose to disable the safety on their guns; but in the hunting scenario, the safety should always be activated.)

Unfortunately, the owner of the gun (Defendant William S.) had purchased it used, with the safety in the disabled position, and had never learned that it could be reactivated with a simple turn of a screw. On the day of the incident, defendant William S. had placed the loaded rifle on the back seat of a four-door pickup truck, with the barrel facing toward the back door. Plaintiff”s Decedent, had just awoken from a nap, opened the back door of the truck and reached in to get another gun. Just then, the Valmet rifle discharged, killing him.

Plaintiff’s alleged that William S. was negligent due to the fact that he was aware the safety on the gun was disabled, yet kept the chamber loaded, knowing that it had the potential to fire. Also, that Defendant William S. should have been aware (but was not) that the safety device, with a simple turn of a screw, could be reactivated. Lastly, that Defendant William S. placed the rifle in the truck such that it pointed toward the door, rather than the ground.

Defendant contended that Richard B. insisted that all guns be loaded on his ranch, that he knew the safety was disabled and he nonetheless grabbed the gun by the barrel causing it to discharge. Also, defendant contended that Richard B. had been drinking prior to the incident.

TYPE OF CASE: Wrongful Death

INJURIES: Accident resulted in the death of Richard B.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: On 12/3/91 in Cotulla, Texas.

PLAINTIFFS’ AGE: Nita B. – 61 at time of incident
Lisa B. – 29 at time of incident

OCCUPATION: Decedent Richard B. – Insurance Agent for State Farm
Nita B. – School Teacher
Lisa B. – Insurance Agent for State Farm

Richard A. Cohn
For Plaintiffs – Nita & Lisa B.

Michael Strickroth
For Defendant – William S.