Drinking and Shooting

When an intoxicated person gets hold of a gun, the situation may be dangerous. If the gun owner knows the person is drunk, and someone is injured, then it may be possible to sue the owner, according to a recent case from Utah.

The host at a party had a gun in a cabinet. During the party, he showed one of the guests, who was very drunk, a shotgun in his safe. Depending on which of three accounts the host gave at various times, either (1) he then showed the guest a handgun and failed to notice that she had kept it, or (2) the guest, having shown an interest in the handgun, obtained access to it without his noticing, or (3) the guest found the handgun had been left out of the safe and picked it up. Shortly afterward, the guest accidentally shot herself.

As might be expected, her estate sued the owner. He defended on the grounds that he was not required to protect her from accessing the gun. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the suit before trial. On appeal, the Utah Supreme Court disagreed, noting that presenting a gun to an intoxicated person shows a clear risk of danger, that the host may have acted affirmatively by supplying the gun instead of simply failing to prevent the guest from gaining access, that Utah gun control laws prohibited allowing impaired persons from gaining access to guns, and that the host was in the best position to prevent danger. As a result, it held that the owner might be found negligent. On the other hand, it also noted that the guest might have been negligent, and it is possible that her negligence outweighed the owner’s, which in Utah would result in her estate not being able to recover. It sent the case back to the trial court for a trial.

If the same case was heard in Oregon, it would probably have a similar result, but on slightly different reasoning. Oregon law tends to focus primarily on the foreseeability of harm, and allowing an intoxicated person to get hold of a gun is probably a situation where harm is very foreseeable. Because of a case from 1993 involving an escaped convict to steal weapons, however, it is possible that it may be necessary in Oregon to show why it would be foreseeable that the particular person might be dangerous when holding a gun.

In general, if you have a party where people are drinking, it’s probably safest not to show off guns. It’s also a good idea to ask your guests to check their weapons before the party starts. If someone is injured, talk to your insurer or a lawyer as soon as possible. If you or someone you love is injured or killed, you may want to talk to a lawyer. Get as much information as possible so that the lawyer can make a good assessment of the situation.

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