West Virginia Teen Accidentally Shoots Himself With a Gun He Thought Was Unloaded

February 28, 2012
By Wolfe Law Firm on February 28, 2012 4:03 PM |

gun_and_bullets.jpgA West Virginia teenager shot himself in the face with a gun he believed to be unloaded while at a friend's house. The gunshot was not immediately fatal, and the teenager remains at the hospital under observation.

Tony Michael Lawson, age 18, was offered a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver by his friend. He opened the gun and emptied it of cartridges, but did not count how many cartridges he had removed. He then pulled the trigger twice -- once while placing the gun under his chin, once while placing it against his temple. Both times, the gun did not go off. However, when Lawson placed the gun against his head and pulled the trigger again, a bullet shot through his right cheek and came through the other side of his face.

It is unclear what role Lawson's friend played in Lawson's experiment, whether he tried to discourage or encourage Lawson in his activity. Lawson's would be far from the first case of accidental shooting with an "unloaded" gun. In fact, in 2008, there were an estimated 680 accidental shooting deaths and 15,500 shooting injuries. We at the Wolfe Law Firm support responsible gun ownership, and believe that every gun should be treated with the greatest of care.

The question is whether Lawson's friend's parents could be sued under premise liability theory. Homeowners or tenants are liable under this theory when a person is injured in their home after the homeowner failed to properly keep it safe. Most guests in a home are known as "licensees," and under premise liability theory, homeowners have a duty to warn when there is a known hidden condition that could be harmful to the licensee. Lawson, therefore, would have been a licensee in his friend's home. Presumably Lawson's friend's parents owned the .38 caliber revolver. One could argue that the friend's parents knew that the revolver was loaded and dangerous and failed to warn Lawson, thus making them liable.

However, there are some extra factors that complicate the scenario. Lawson's friend likely warned Lawson that the gun was loaded, or else Lawson would not have removed the cartridges before pulling the trigger. Did Lawson's friend know how many cartridges were supposed to be in the revolver? Did he have a duty to know? Did Lawson's friend's parents, if they knew of the danger, even know that Lawson was visiting? If Lawson's friend's parents knew that Lawson was visiting, and how many cartridges were supposed to be removed from the revolver, then a West Virginia premise liability attorney could argue that by failing to warn Lawson, the friend's parents were liable.

On the other hand, suppose the friend's parents specifically warned Lawson and his friend to not play with the gun, but they did anyway. In West Virginia, people who are 50% or more at fault for their injuries cannot recover monetary damages if they sue. Lawson taking the gun without permission would suggest that he was the most at fault in this situation. In all likelihood, the truth lies somewhere in between.

If you were injured on someone else's property and are unsure of whether you should have been warned, or whether your actions were most to blame, contact an experienced attorney to find out answers today.