Nowadays, there are a number of different products in the marketplace advertised for children, ranging from action-figures, remote control cars and trucks, to Legos. With such a wide variety of children’s products in the market, it is no surprise that some products can put children at risk of severe injuries. In legal terms, injuries suffered from the use of children’s products can fall under a product liability claim. These types of claims can be against the manufacturer, seller, or both. Product liability claims can result in compensation for the damages caused by products that have a design defect, manufacturing defect, and/or inadequate warnings associated with the use of the product. One particular product of concern is the BB-gun.
BB guns, or “ball bullet” guns, are designed to fire small (roughly 6 millimeter) metallic ball projectiles, often made of lead. These non-powder guns are sold in sporting goods and other retail stores across the country, and often targeted towards children. Although most people consider BB guns to be toys for children or teens, the reality is that these weapons are capable of inflicting serious harm. Nearly every year there is a significant number of incidents where people suffer some sort of injury in connection with the use of BB guns. Both the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collected data surrounding BB gun injuries. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), from January 1995 to November 2000, 2,045 air gun injuries occurred, out of which 73% involved children under sixteen years of age. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, in 2005, approximately 19,675 non-powder gun injuries were treated in the United States emergency rooms, of which 71% involved individuals 20 years old or younger.
To illustrate the safety risk of using BB guns, consider the following: BB guns can attain impact velocity of 275 fps to 900 fps. For a pellet to penetrate an eye, it must be travelling at a velocity of at least 130 fps. In addition, skin penetration occurs between 120 fps and 230 fps. Lastly, penetration of a bone must reach 350 fps. BB guns can cause even greater damage to young children because their skin and tissue are not fully developed, making them more susceptible to severe injuries.
Due to these concerns, many states and local governments have enacted laws that address the use of these products. In particular, some counties in North Carolina have local ordinances that prohibit parents from allowing children under the age of 12 to use BB guns without adult supervision. Under state law, North Carolina statute §14-316 states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly permit a child under the age of 12 years to have access to, or possession, custody, or use in any manner whatsoever, of any gun, pistol or other dangerous firearm, whether such weapon be loaded or unloaded, unless the person has the permission of the child's parent or guardian, and the child is under the supervision of an adult. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.” However, section (b) of the same statute states that air rifles, air pistols, and BB guns shall not be deemed "dangerous firearms" except in the following counties: Caldwell, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Haywood, Mecklenburg, Stokes, Union, Vance.
With that, in some cases, an injured party will attempt to make a claim against parents of the minor child that used a BB gun by claiming that parents should be liable for the damages inflicted by their children.
In the North Carolina Supreme Court case, Lane v. Chatham, the minor son of the mother and father shot the injured party in the eye with an air rifle. The injured party brought an action against the mother and father for damages. The court entered a judgment in favor of the injured party as to the mother and reversed the judgment of the trial court as to the father. In Lane, the court held that:
“(1) where parents entrusted their nine-year-old son with the possession and use of an air-rifle and injury to another was inflicted by a shot intentionally or negligently discharged therefrom by their son, the parents were liable, based on their own negligence, if under the circumstances, they could and should, by the exercise of due care, have reasonably foreseen that the boy was likely to use the air rifle in such a manner as to cause injury, and failed to exercise reasonable care to prohibit, restrict, or supervise his further use thereof; and (2) the evidence was insufficient to establish liability on the part of the father but sufficient to establish liability on the part of the mother. The child's father could not be liable as there was no evidence tending to show he had any knowledge that his son had ever misused the air rifle. The mother, however, had knowledge that her son had (1) shot someone with the air rifle just two days before the plaintiff was injured, (2) shot another three weeks prior; and (3) had chased another boy with his gun, but had not shot him, a few weeks before the plaintiff was injured. Thus, mother's knowledge of her son's prior misuse of the air rifle was sufficient to support a jury verdict as to her negligence.”
Despite North Carolina’s statutory language characterizing BB guns as not being “dangerous weapons,” these products are capable of causing serious injuries. If you or a loved one were injured in connection with a BB gun, and the shooter was a person or minor who was inexperienced or unsupervised, you may be able to recover damages for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. In addition, if the BB gun used was in some way defective, you may have a product liability claim.
If you or a loved one was injured by a BB gun please contact us. You will speak with a personal injury lawyer who can best discuss your case. The initial consultation is free.