Recreational activities can be loosely defined as activities that people engage in for leisure, generally during their free time or while on vacation. Recreational activities can include activities such as:
In legal terms, the term “recreation” is generally associated with more casual activities that are done simply to pass time or as a hobby. If an activity is done for money, that activity will typically become a profession.
While many recreational activities are considered to be generally non-aggressive, some of them can be considerably aggressive. For example, injuries from recreational activities such as hunting can often result simply from the nature of the activity. In addition to injuries caused by the activity itself, a third party’s actions may result in injuries to another party.
Examples of common recreational accidents and injuries include, but may not be limited to:
- Simple muscle strains or sprains;
- Cuts, burns, abrasions, and bruises;
- Firearm or weapon related accidents and injuries, especially for recreational activities such as hunting; and
- Skin rashes or exposure to outdoor allergens or toxins.
Once again, because the term “recreation” covers a broad range of activities, a wide range of injuries can result from participating in recreational activities other than the list above. More serious cases of injuries associated with recreational injuries could include broken bones, fractures, or even death. When it comes to activities that involve the use of weapons, such as hunting, the likelihood of serious injury increases.
What Are Common Hunting Accidents?
A hunting accident typically involves the use of a firearm or other projectile weapon. Common hunting accidents will generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Accidental Discharge: The most common injury associated with hunting accidents is the accidental discharge of a weapon that results in an injury to self or another person;
- Missing Target: Another common accident involving hunting is when an individual shoots at a target, but then misses and hits another person; or
- Mistaken Target: Another common injury that occurs during hunting is when the individual discharging the weapon mistakes another person for a wild animal and shoots them.
What Are the Legal Consequences for Hunting Accidents?
When it comes to the legal consequences of hunting accidents, state laws will typically treat hunting accidents as a case of negligence. This is especially true in cases where a weapon accidentally discharges. Besides possible criminal charges, an individual can also face civil liability for injuries they cause to others as a result of a hunting accident. In order for an injured party to recover a damages award for injuries sustained due to someone’s negligence, they must first prove all of the elements of negligence.
The elements of a negligence claim are:
- Duty: In short, the duty element is the responsibility one person owes to another. An individual’s duty is the level of care any ordinary and reasonably prudent person would do in the same situation. In the case of a hunting accident, an individual has a duty to not shoot someone;
- Breach of Duty: A breach occurs when an individual’s level of care falls below the level required by their duty to others. To continue the above example, if an individual mishandles their weapon and the weapon accidentally discharges, that person will likely be considered to have breached their duty of reasonable care by not safely handling their weapon;
- Causation: In order to prove causation, the breach of a duty must simply be the cause of injury. Although the actual legal test for causation is considerably more complex than that, the basic test for causation is ‘but for’ one party’s actions the injury would not have occurred. In the ongoing example, if the individual failed to activate the safety on their loaded weapon, and that weapon discharges and hits another individual, they would have breached their duty of reasonable care. This breach then caused injury to the other person. But for the negligent party’s actions, the other individual would not have been injured; and
- Damages: The final element in any negligence claim is the demonstration that the injured party suffered some sort of quantifiable harm. Although the specific type of injury can vary, typical damage claims include medical bills, property damage, emotional damages, and lost wages.
Once again, in cases where a weapon accidentally discharges, the court will consider a variety of factors in determining civil liability, including:
- The experience level of the hunter;
- The actions the hunter took after the accident, such as actions to prevent further injuries from occurring; and/or
- What specific type of hunting was occurring when the accident happened.
It is important to note that a few states treat hunting accidents as strict liability actions. This is because those states consider a loaded firearm to be a dangerous instrument. Other common legal theories for hunting accidents include intentional claims based on the battery of another person. Intentional claims can be brought against a hunter when the hunter aims at a target but misses and hits another person instead.
Even if the hunter did not intend to shoot the victim, they would likely still be found liable as they intended to discharge the firearm. Further, if the victim of the hunting accident dies, the hunter could be liable for their wrongful death or face severe criminal charges.
Can Minors Be Held Liable for Hunting Accidents?
Whether or not a minor can be held liable for a hunting accident will be determined based on local laws and the specific facts of the case. Although the laws regarding civil liability of minors differ by states, the definition of a minor is generally anyone under the age of eighteen. In many jurisdictions, minors can be sued for injuries caused by a hunting accident.
However, some states will hold the minor with a weapon to the same legal standard as that of an adult, but other states may hold them to a reasonable child standard. Additionally, parents may also be held responsible for the actions of their minor child. This distinction is typically made based on whether the state in question considers hunting to be a proper activity for children to engage in.
In states where hunting is popular the act of hunting may be an appropriate activity for a child to take part in, and thus the minor will only be held to the standard of a reasonable child. However, in states where hunting may not be as common, hunting will likely be considered a dangerous activity for a child, and thus the minor will be held to a reasonable person standard (i.e. the same standard as that of an adult).
Are There Any Legal Defenses If I Face Civil Liability For a Hunting Accident?
In short, yes. If you are being civilly sued for a hunting accident, and no death occurred, then you are likely facing a civil assault and/or battery claim. Both assault and battery are claims of intentional acts. However, if a death resulted from the hunting accident, then you will likely be facing a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims can be either based on intentional acts or negligent acts.
Further, some states may permit a strict liability claim based on the argument that firearms are inherently dangerous instruments. Depending on the type of claim you are facing, there may be a legal defense to civil liability. For example, if the claim is based on an intentional action, the best legal defense is to demonstrate that you did not act with intent in causing the harm.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Hunting Accidents and Civil Liability?
If you are the victim of a hunting accident, you should immediately consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to explain your legal rights, and help you recover for the damages you suffered as a result of the hunting accident. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to file a civil lawsuit on your behalf, and represent you in court, as necessary.
On the other hand, if you are the party that caused injury to another person, consulting with an attorney is also necessary in order to protect yourself from possible civil liability. An attorney will be able to assert any applicable legal defenses, as well as represent you in court.