Does a Gun Owner Have a Duty to not Supply an Intoxicated Person with a Firearm?
Neely Creager was at a party one evening where she had a night of heavy drinking and a blood alcohol level of 0.25. At the party, Travis Izatt unlocked his gun safe and let Ms. Creager pick up his handgun even though he knew it was loaded. Ms. Creager ended up accidentally shooting herself in the head. Her estate filed a lawsuit against Mr. Izatt, the host of the party and owner of the handgun. The district court held that Mr. Izatt owed no duty to Ms. Creager and granted him summary judgment.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Utah answered the question of whether gun owners have a duty in tort to exercise reasonable care when supplying their guns to intoxicated people. The court explained that supplying a gun to an intoxicated individual creates a foreseeable risk of harm much like supplying a vehicle to an intoxicated person would. Ms. Creager imposed a risk to not only herself, but also to the rest of the people at the party. Since supplying an incompetent or impaired individual with a gun creates a foreseeable risk of harm, the foreseeability factor weighs in favor of establishing a duty. With respect to the public policy factor, the court determined that because the burden on gun owners to properly restrict access to their guns is relatively slight, and considering the risk of injury that may occur, this factor favors imposition of a duty.
Keep in mind that because gun owners have such a duty, it does not mean they will be liable for damages if a person injures themselves; this is because most of the time the negligence of the intoxicated person will likely exceed that of the gun owner when looking at comparative negligence. The United States Constitution and Utah’s Constitution protect the right to own firearms, but this right is not unrestricted. In fact, the Legislature has acted to prevent gun access by restricted persons, minors, and intoxicated individuals. In conclusion, the court reversed and remanded, deciding that gun owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care in supplying their guns to others, for example children or impaired people, whom they know or should know are likely to use the firearm in a way that brings a foreseeable risk of injury to themselves or third parties.