Is Negligent Discharge a Crime?



South Carolina has many laws on the books regulating the use of firearms. In some situations, discharging a firearm is illegal in South Carolina. However, the criminal laws are complicated in this respect. You could face felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the circumstances of the discharge.


Anyone injured by the negligent discharge of a firearm has a civil right to receive compensation. This is a “tort,” or civil wrong. Unlike the criminal law, torts are enforced by private citizens who can file their own lawsuit in court. If someone negligent drove their vehicle into an intersection and hit you, you could bring a lawsuit in court for your injuries. The same is true if you are hurt by the negligent discharge of a gun. Surasky Law has helped many people in Aiken, SC receive compensation for personal injuries, and our lawyer looks closer at the law on negligent discharge.


Criminal Laws Regulating Firearms in South Carolina

In some situations, discharging your firearm is a crime which South Carolina seeks to punish:

  • Section 23-31-400. It is a crime to discharge a firearm while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the defendant can face misdemeanor charges.

  • Section 16-23-440(A). It is a crime to fire a gun into or at a home, building, or enclosure regularly occupied by people. This is a felony offense.

  • Section 16-23-440 (B). It is a crime to fire a gun at or into any vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, or conveyance while it is occupied. This is a felony offense.

What if You Were Hurt?

South Carolina’s criminal laws don’t require that someone suffer an injury. The discharge of the firearm under the circumstances specified above is enough to warrant criminal charges.

What happens if you or someone you love is hurt by the accidental discharge? South Carolina’s negligence laws might allow you to obtain compensation. You would need to prove certain elements:

  • Duty. The person holding the gun owed you a duty of care.

  • Breach. The person with the gun failed to follow their duty of care.

  • Damages. You suffered damages.

  • Causation. The failure to exercise care caused your damages.

If you can prove all 4 elements, you can bring a civil claim against the person who shot you. You can seek compensation for medical bills, loss of income, pain, suffering, and other losses.


Was the Gun Holder Negligent?

Most gun accident cases turn on whether the gun holder was sufficiently careful. This is a question of whether they breached their duty of care to you.

There are many reasons why a person holding a gun might accidentally discharge it:

  • They thought the gun wasn’t loaded when they pulled the trigger

  • They accidentally squeezed the trigger while handling or holstering the gun

  • They lacked the experience and training to handle a firearm safely

  • They dropped the gun, which went off accidentally

  • Someone bumped into them when they were handling the gun, leading to a discharge

Some of these reasons will qualify as negligence. For example, someone who carelessly drops a gun has probably breached their duty of care. The same is true if they didn’t check whether a gun was loaded before pulling the trigger. But if someone else bumps into them, then they probably weren’t negligent.

Further, they might have intentionally fired the gun but without any intent to hit anyone. Nevertheless, you might be hurt because:

  • The gun handler carelessly pointed the weapon in your direction

  • The gun handler didn’t check whether someone was in the vicinity where they were pointing

  • The handler fired into a building without knowing whether it was occupied

  • The gun handler was intoxicated and couldn’t see or hear properly

  • The bullet ricocheted off something and then hit you

A person’s failure to check where they are firing is also negligence, as is handling a gun while drunk.


What if You Weren’t Hit by the Bullet?

You still might be able to bring a lawsuit. For example, if your spouse was shot and killed or paralyzed, you might have a loss of consortium claim. You can bring this claim in South Carolina even if you were not personally injured.


In other situations, you might have suffered injury indirectly. For example, a bullet could have hit your car, causing you to lose control. The injuries you suffer in the wreck are attributable to the person who accidentally fired the gun.


Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer to Make a Claim?

It certainly helps. A lawyer can do many necessary tasks, such as gathering evidence to establish the gun handler was negligent. Without proving negligence, it is almost impossible to obtain compensation for your injuries.


Bullets tend to cause serious injuries. It is hard to pull together a claim when you are in so much distress. Our legal team can build up your case based on our experience. We might need to inspect the gun or interview the person who was handling it at the time. We also will search to find available funds to pay a settlement. With a car accident, the motorist who hit you probably had insurance. But there might not be any insurance policy to cover an accidental shooting. We can review whether the defendant has a homeowner’s policy or other funds to cover a settlement.


Can the Defendant Raise Defenses?

Possibly. The fact that you got shot doesn’t mean the gun handler is automatically liable for the accident. For example:

  • If you leaped out in front of the shooter at the firing range, then you are responsible for getting hit, not the person pulling the trigger.

  • If the gun malfunctioned, then the handler might not be liable if they had no reason to suspect the gun was defective.

  • If someone pushed or bumped into the defendant, they might not be responsible for the gun going off.

Contact Our Aiken, SC Personal Injury Lawyer for More Information

Surasky Law understands how accidental shootings can completely change someone’s life. There are challenges to bringing a claim for compensation. Call us today to schedule a consultation.

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