Can I Be Sued For Accidentally Shooting My Neighbor?

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About a month ago, I accidentally discharged a firearm in my apartment complex. I went to my neighbor to see if she was okay since the bullet went through our shared wall. Unfortunately , she received a grazing wound to her leg. I called the police and they came out with an ambulance. They treated her with a bandage onsite and she declined to go to the hospital. I was not charged with any criminal activity. I received a call from a personal injury lawyer and I think she is going to sue me. Do I have any defenses? How much can I expect to lose? What would you expect a plaintiff like her to win if it goes to trial? This is in Texas by the way.

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

It sounds like your neighbor may have a negligence claim against you. Broadly speaking, negligence requires that a person fails to act like an average, reasonably prudent person would under the circumstances, and that failure results in harm to another person or his or her property. Negligence need not rise to the level of criminal conduct, so the fact that you were not charged with a crime is not necessarily relevant to this lawsuit.

You state that you accidentally discharged your firearm, which sounds like you may have failed to act like a reasonably prudent person under your circumstances. For example, a reasonably prudent person may have made sure the safety was one, or made certain the firearm was not loaded, or taken other precautions. The court will also consider whether your negligent action caused the harm to your neighbor. This also appears evident, since the bullet grazed her leg. It does sound like your neighbor can establish a negligence claim.

The big question here is how much she could sue you for. The obvious damages that she can claim are the wound to her leg and the hole in her wall. She may also be entitled to a “pain and suffering” claim which would be a multiple of her medical costs (such as one and a half time). However, because she experienced physical harm, she would also be able to claim damages relating to emotional distress. So if she has had any emotional distress related to this incident, she would be entitled to make a claim on that. The total amount of this claim would depend on the severity of her distress and whether she has sought professional treatment for it. Finally, if she can claim that you didn’t just act negligently, but actually acted recklessly, she may be able to claim punitive damages. This amount would be unrelated to the actual physical and emotional harm she experienced and be intended to punish you for unreasonable behavior.

In short, depending on the specifics of the situation, you could face a substantial liability on this incident. You would be very wise to contact an attorney to assess the situation and determine the best approach given your circumstances.

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Author: House Attorney