Hunting accidents usually involve a fire arm or an arrow, and fall within three categories:
- Accidental discharge of a weapon and shooting another person,
- Shooting at a target, missing, and shooting another person, or
- Mistaking another person as a wild animal and shooting them.
Can I Argue That I Had No Intention of Hitting The Other Person?
If you were specifically aiming at and trying to hit a wild animal, then the answer is no. Even though you did not intend to hit the other person, you did intend to hit something. Under civil law, intention to hit any target can be transferred from one target to another.
Under criminal law, if there was a death, the prosecution would bypass the issue of intention by arguing that the defendant was criminally negligent to the point of having a disregard for life (manslaughter). If there was no death though, intention makes criminal charges much less viable.
Are There Any Defenses If I Face Civil Liability For a Hunting Accident?
There are two types of possible claims in a civil hunting accident case: intentional and negligence. If you are being sued for a hunting accident, and there was no death, then the claims could be assault and/or battery. Both assault and battery are claims of intentional acts. If there was a death, then a wrongful death claim may be imminent. Wrongful death can be either intentional or negligence. Some states may permit a strict liability claim based on the argument that firearms are dangerous instruments no matter how careful the defendant was with it.
Defenses to Claims of Intention
The best defense against an intentional claim is to say that there was no purpose or knowledge of a shooting. This defense would be difficult to use though if the hunt was in progress, since during a hunt the purpose is to shoot something. The only intention that matters is the defendant’s intention to use the weapon for the purpose of hitting a target.
Causation, whether the defendant is actually the cause of the injury, can also be disputed. This defense may only work though, if the victim was injured by someone or something other than the defendant. If the victim was shot at by two people at the same time and it is unclear who actually injured the victim, both persons would be liable for the victim’s injury. If the defendants can prove who exactly hit the victim though, than only the defendant who actually hit the victim would be liable.
Defenses to Negligence
Negligence is the claim that the defendant was careless, and it would certainly seem that way if the defendant hit a person when the defendant meant to hit a wild animal. However, the question of negligence is held to a “reasonable person standard.” In other words, the defendant’s carelessness is measured against the carelessness of a reasonable person. The standard can be slightly modified though, to accommodate the defendant’s experience with the weapon in question.
Like intentional claims, causation can also be argued. Negligence adds a layer of causation not found in intentional claims though. For a defendant to be liable for negligence, the injury must be foreseeable or a direct result of the defendant’s actions.
The defendant can also argue that the victim assumed the risk of being shot at. Assumption of the risk can only be a defense though, if the victim knew the area was a popular spot for hunting.
Defenses to Strict Liability
Strict liability is the claim that the defendant is responsible for injury simply by hunting because the mere use of a firearm is itself dangerous to life. Although this is the hardest kind of personal injury claim to defend against, strict liability is only applied when a state law declares an activity is strictly liable. Therefore, the number of strict liability claims will be restricted to certain states.
All personal injury claims can be defended against by arguing that the victim contributed to his or her own injury by being careless. Depending on the jurisdiction, this defense can be a complete defense against liability, or can lower the amount of compensation awarded.
Can I Face Any Criminal Liability for a Hunting Accident?
Most states separate hunting accidents into two categories when deciding to punish you:
No Death Occurs
If the victim of a hunting accident does not die, some states have specific requirements that you must follow:
- Give your name to the victim,
- Give the victim assistance, including taking them to the hospital, and
- Report the accident to the appropriate government agencies.
Accidentally shooting another person in a hunting accident or failing to follow these steps could lead to:
- Fines: generally around $5,000 - $10,000,
- Jail time: generally not more than 1 year, or
- A combination of both.
If the victim of a hunting accident dies, you are subject to general homicide principles. Most cases lead to a conviction of one of the following:
- Involuntary or second-degree manslaughter, or
- Criminal negligent homicide.
Are There Any Defenses If I Face Criminal Liability For a Hunting Accident?
If a hunting accident does not cause a death though, then the chance of criminal liability goes down. Criminal law requires that both an act and a certain mental state be present before a person can be charged under a penal code (penal code is the part of state law where most criminal laws are listed). This is the area of law where intention will matter the most. Punishments are more likely to be given for non-fatal hunting accidents for failure to provide proper assistance to the victim.
If a hunting accident results in a death, the state can bring a charge of involuntary manslaughter based on criminal negligence. Criminal negligence involves the defendant having very little regard for the safety of others. Unlike civil negligence, the defendant must be acting with the knowledge that his or her conduct could result in the injury of another person. Murder is a remote possibility, although unlikely since most courts require that the defendant have malicious intention (a desire to harm others) before the charge of murder can be used.
Criminal law has a higher standard than civil law, so it would not be unusual for a defendant to be free from liability for criminal charges, but be found liable for civil damages.
Do I Need an Attorney if I am Involved in a Hunting Accident?
It is extremely important for you to seek the help of a criminal attorney if you have injured another person in a hunting accident. You may be subject to criminal liability, plus there might also be civil, or personal injury issues involved.