Are You at Fault for Hunting Accidents?
The two-week regular firearm deer hunting season starts in Michigan on November 15. It’s an exciting time for hunters to get back out in the woods and enjoy their favorite pastimes with loved ones.
Unfortunately, it’s also a time where accidents are common. And, if you’re not careful, you might be held responsible for someone else’s injury—or suffer the consequences of someone else’s negligence.
Who is at fault for hunting accidents? Here’s what hunters should know before visiting the great outdoors.
Common Hunting Accidents
Injuries are not as common as the public perceives them to be—hunting injuries, on the whole, are on the decline, with only eight people wounded through November 2019 compared to 28 in November 2007.
However, it only takes one instance of bad luck or judgment to change your life from that moment on.
While just about anything can hurt you on a hunt, some of the most common hunting injuries include:
- Treestand injuries
- Accidental shootings
- Vehicle accidents
Most injuries are caused by carelessness and complacency. If you’ve climbed into your treestand thousand times without issue, it’s easy to think you won’t get hurt this time. At least, until you slip and your gun discharges. Or, maybe you assume to know the surrounding terrain, fail to scan before you shoot, and accidentally injure someone else. Or, maybe you fire into the air randomly, thinking it’s funny, forgetting that what comes up must eventually come down.
Remember, hunting implements are designed to kill things. They are dangerous, especially when handled improperly. And when you’re hunting, you’re often a long way away from anyone who might be able to help, which can make an injury even more dangerous.
Potential Defendants in Hunting Accidents
Whoever caused the accident is potentially liable and is thus named a defendant. This could be one person, a group of people, or even an organization like a company. Depending on the injury and the unique situation, there are usually three potential defendants in hunting accidents:
- Property owners
- Other hunters
- Weapons manufacturers
Their respective liability depends on the unique details of the case.
If you’re hunting on someone else’s private property rather than public land, you may be able to make an injury claim against them.
This is often based on premises liability, a legal theory that holds that property owners are liable for accidents that occur on their property. The property owner is responsible for maintaining a safe environment. So, if someone else gets injured on their property because of a hazardous condition that the property owner knew or should have reasonably known about and prevented, the property owner can often be held liable.
This gets a bit trickier if you don’t have permission to hunt on their land (and are thus trespassing). However, property owners may still be held liable for trespasser injuries under certain circumstances. The fact of being a trespasser may diminish your case, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the validity of your claim.
Additionally, Michigan’s Recreational Land Use Act bars a cause of action for “injuries to a person who is on the land of another without paying to the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land a valuable consideration for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, hiking, sightseeing, motorcycling, snowmobiling, or any other outdoor recreational use or trail use, with or without permission, against the owner, tenant, or lessee of the land unless the injuries were caused by the gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct of the owner, tenant, or lessee.” MCL 324.73301(1). This broadly-worded statute often provides the landowner, tenant, or lessee with immunity from liability.
Unfortunately, another common defendant in hunting injury cases is other hunters.
Hunters can be just as likely to hurt themselves as someone else, but if hunters do injure other hunters, the most common culprit is reckless behavior. This can happen for any number of reasons—maybe you didn’t use your gun safety, maybe you fired at movement without being certain it was game instead of a person, maybe you accidentally hit someone with your ATV, maybe you were intoxicated, etc.
Either way, if you were injured as a result of another hunter’s negligence or recklessness, thus violating their duty of care to you and other hunters, you may be able to sue for damages.
Of course, there can be complications. If the other hunter was a minor, for example, then their parents may potentially be held liable for the resulting accident.
Sometimes, the injury has nothing to do with the situation or other people. Sometimes, your hunting implements were defectively designed or manufactured, leading to injuries, such as a treestand that collapses or a rifle barrel that explodes.
In those cases, you may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
These cases can be complex since you have to prove that the product had a design or manufacturing defect that caused the accident (whereas the company will try their level best to prove that your own negligence was to blame).
Establishing Who is At Fault for Hunting Accidents
Establishing who is at fault for hunting accidents (and, if they are at fault, how much they’re at fault) depends on the details of the case.
Let’s say you’re suing another hunter for negligence, maybe an accidental shooting that caused you serious injury. In cases like this, the court will consider things like:
- What kind of hunting was occurring
- The experience of the hunter in question
- What the hunter did after the accident
If you can’t determine which hunter of a group of hunters shot you, then the entire group might potentially be held liable to you for their respective percentages of fault, as determined by the trier of fact, which is known as alternative liability.
Do You Have a Case?
One way or another, your case rests on two things: liability and damages.
In order to prove liability, you have to prove four things:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant breached their duty of care, through negligence, recklessness or intentional conduct
- The plaintiff (you) suffered injuries
- The defendant’s breach of care was a cause of your injuries
If you can prove those four things, you can prove liability. At this point, it becomes a question of how much liability (the percentage of fault) the defendant has for the damages you suffered as a result of your injuries.
The Personal Injury Attorneys You Need to Fight for You After Hunting Accidents
Figuring out who is at fault for hunting accidents is key to establishing your case. But in the aftermath of a hunting accident, it’s easy to be frightened and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next.
Our team of expert attorneys put their decades of experience to work to fight for you. But we also believe that law should be built around compassion, which is why we go the extra mile for every single client and treat every client with the same care and kindness we would give to our own loved ones. Because we know that, if it were our own loved ones trying to recover, we wouldn’t want anything less.
If you’ve suffered a hunting injury and need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.