Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Court Allows Claim To Proceed Against Gun Owner Where Plaintiff Shot By Mentally Unstable Person Who Had Access to Guns


In the case of Blank v. Combs, No. 10122 of 2020, C.A. (C.P. Lawr. Co. Aug. 5, 2020 Motto, J.), the court overruled a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in the nature of a demurrer in a case involving claims that the Defendants knew about their stepfather’s mental health issues and failed to take any precautionary measures to prevent injury to the Plaintiff, even after discovering that their stepfather was distressed and had left their residence with a firearm. The stepfather ended up shooting the Plaintiff. 
According to the Opinion, the shooter was the stepfather of the Defendant gun owner and the stepfather resided with his stepson.

It was alleged in the Plaintiff's Complaint that the stepson kept a firearm in an unlocked desk draw at the residence. It was additionally alleged that the stepfather knew the location of the gun and was able to access it. 

It was further alleged that the Defendant stepson was aware that the stepfather had a history of mental illness, including a bipolar disorder, paranoia, and schizophrenia. It was also noted that the stepfather’s mental health issues had led to his hospitalization in the past. 

On the date of the incident, the stepfather was having an episode of paranoia. It was known to the Defendants that the stepfather had taken the firearm and left the house. However, neither of the Defendants took any action to notify law enforcement. The stepfather later shot the Plaintiff on the same day. 

The Plaintiff filed suit alleging negligence on the part of the gun owners. The Defendants filed Preliminary Objections asserting that they cannot be liable for the Plaintiffs’ injuries based upon the criminal conduct of a third party in the absence of a pre-existing relationship imposing a duty of care upon the Defendants. 

The court ruled that, under Pennsylvania law, the Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to support a cause of action. The Plaintiff had alleged that the Defendants were aware of the stepfather’s mental health issues and, even though the stepfather had exhibited signs of distress, neither of the Defendants took any steps to secure the firearm or prevent the stepfather from gaining access to it. The Plaintiff had also alleged that, even after it was discovered that the stepfather had left the home with the weapon, the gun owners did not attempt to contact law enforcement. 

The court overruled the Defendants’ Preliminary Objections finding that these facts were sufficient to support the Plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and loss of consortium. 

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Sept. 29, 2020).




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