South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Use of Gun in Suicide Not Foreseeable, So No Negligence by Gun Owner
Description

Appeals court held that the owner of a gun was not negligent by leaving the weapon unattended, which allowed it to be used in a suicide. There was no indication that the person was suicidal, so there was no duty to secure the weapon more than usual.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Gross Negligence; Duty of Care; Proximate Cause; Foreseeability; Intervening Cause

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Johnstone was the stepfather of Rachel Rogers. At age 14, before he married Rachelsí mother, Rachel had attempted suicide. At age 16, Rachel took Johnstoneís firearm and killed herself. At the time, Johnstone was in the back yard with a friend. They testified that Rachel seemed calm and normal right before the incident. Her estate sued Johnstone for gross negligence for leaving his firearm unattended. The trial court dismissed the suit; the estate appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. Whether one owes a duty of care to another involves questions of foreseeability. This includes what one might objectively and reasonably expect, not merely what might conceivably occur. No one is bound to guard against or take measures to avert that which he or she would not reasonably anticipate as likely to happen; the risk must be actual and perceptible, not speculative. The suicidal action was not apparent based on Rachelís recent behavior. There was no heightened duty to safeguard the gun. For there to be proximate cause, the conduct must be foreseeable and the actions of the defendant substantially cause the injury that occurs. Deliberate suicide is a superseding cause when it is not foreseeable. An independent intervening cause relieves a negligent party of liability unless the defendant realized that his negligence created a situation that a third party might use to commit a tort or crime.

Citation

Johnstone v. City of Albuquerque, ---P.3d--- (2006 WL 2742769, Ct. App., N.M., 2006)

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