Shooting by Bakersfield business owner raises legal questions
The police investigation continues in the case of a Bakersfield business owner who chased suspected burglars from his property and shot one of them as they fled.
The case has sparked questions about self-defense and protecting property — as covered by a KGET-17 News story that featured Chain | Cohn | Clark personal injury attorney David Cohn — but also about negligence and liability issues that come with discharging firearms.
Learn more about the case, and legal issues related to this case, below.
At about 6 a.m. on July 30, the Bakersfield Police Department responded to reports of two suspicious people at Power Performance Air Conditioning on the 1400 block of Easton Drive in Bakersfield. Shortly after, the business owner told police that the two people fled in a vehicle, and he was chasing them in his own car. Eventually, the vehicles veered into the river bed, one vehicle hit another, and the burglary suspects’ car went into the Truxtun Lake. As the vehicle was in the water, the business owner fired his gun, striking one of the suspects. He was taken to Kern Medical Center and was expected to survive. The other person fled on foot. The business owner stayed on scene and cooperated with police, according to news reports.
No arrests have been made.
Bakersfield Police Officer Bryon Sandrini told ABC23 News that “protecting your property with life threatening issues is not the best idea.” And Kern County Deputy District Attorney Joe Kinzle told the news that when citizens try to arrest people without trained law enforcement officials, it can be tricky to determine the best course of action on your own.
“If the crime is a misdemeanor it has to occur in the presence of the person essentially making the arrest,” he said. “That’s not true for felonies but affecting an arrest of someone you can only use force that is reasonable.”
Reasonable force would have to be determined in court if authorities ultimately decide to move forward with this case.
GUNS AND LIABILITY
In some situations, gun shot victims and their families can be entitled to financial compensation for their injuries, expenses, or emotional distress. Gun accident liability may fall to the firearm owner, the person who fired the gun, the firearm seller, or even the gun manufacturer.
Here are some examples where someone could be held civilly liable in the case of a shooting:
- Inadequate Training: Knowing the proper way to handle a firearm is essential for everyone’s safety. Without proper firearms training, the odds of gun injuries can rise dramatically.
- Lack of Supervision: It is negligent for parents to fail to secure firearms out of the reach of children. Not only could someone receive a civil complaint in the case of an injury or death due to a gun discharge, but the gun owner may be criminally liable as well.
- Reckless Firearm Handling: Aiming guns recklessly, playing with a gun, failing to keep the safety engaged, and celebratory firing into the air are some examples of reckless and negligent behavior.
- Hunting Accidents: Hunters may fail to identify a target while shooting for game or can fail to maintain a safe firing zone. Wearing proper safety gear while hunting, which can identify people versus game, is vital.
- Improper Maintenance: It is possible that guns can rupture or explode if not poorly maintained.
- Improper Use of Ammunition: Using the wrong caliber or size ammunition can lead to dangerous firearm malfunctions.
- Intoxication: Never drink and shoot. In fact, accidental firearm discharge after consuming alcohol or other drugs is a leading cause of gun injuries.
- Poor Range Management: Common gun range injuries include incidents caused by slipping and falling on ejected shell casings, or leaked gun oil.
- Manufacturer Defects: Gun owners expect their firearms to function correctly and according to model specifications. If a firearm unexpectedly discharges or breaks apart, the manufacturer and the store where the owner purchased the firearm may be made to pay under product liability laws in the case of injuries.
ACCIDENTS VERSUS NEGLIGENCE
Accidents can happen even when the gun owner had proper training and took all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of others. For example, a gun can slip from the owners hands, fall to ground and discharge, striking a passerby.
Negligent discharge occurs when the gun owner or shooter fails to exercise reasonable care and precaution when handling the gun, thereby endangering the safety of others. Using the above example, it would be negligent for the gun owner to consume alcohol or drugs before handling the gun that then falls to the floor and discharges. In other words, the gun accidents were caused by behavior that unreasonably jeopardized the safety of others.
The Bakersfield business owner in the case highlighted above could be potentially charged with a crime, or could be civilly liable, said attorney David Cohn.
“You certainly do not have a right under the law to shoot someone especially if they are not threatening you with any type of deadly force,” Cohn said. “It seems that the people he was chasing, they may have been the people who were actually in fear.”
- Business owner chases suspected burglars, shoots one of them after vehicle ends up in Truxtun Lake (KGET-17, NBC – July 30, 2019)