John M. Kirby Dec. 7, 2014

On June 13, 2013, in the case of Bridges v. Parrish, our Supreme Court addressed the liability of a gun owner for failing to secure the gun from a third person, who shoots a victim. The court ruled that the gun owner could not be liable.

In this case, the victim dated the 52-year-old shooter for several months. He lived with his parents, and had a history of violence towards the women. He had been charged with first-degree kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm. His parents met the victim several times. In 2011 the shooter accused her of seeing other men, and drove to her place of employment and shot her with one of his parents' guns. In her complaint, she alleged that the parents "failed to take reasonable and/or necessary steps to keep [their] guns in a safe and secure place, or otherwise adequately locked and located such that Bernie Parrish could not get access to and possession of any such guns."

The lower court dismissed the claim, and the Supreme Court affirmed. The Court wrote, "The criminal acts of a third party are generally considered 'unforeseeable and independent, intervening cause[s] absolving the [defendant] of liability.' For this reason, the law does not generally impose a duty to prevent the criminal acts of a third party." And "As an exception to this rule, our common law may allow a defendant to be held liable for the criminal acts of a third party in cases of 'special relationships when the defendant's relationship with the plaintiff or the third person justifies making the defendant answerable civilly for the harm to the plaintiff.'"

The plaintiff argued only that she had such a relationship with the shooter's parents. The court rejected this argument. The Court further stated, "The mere possession of a legal yet dangerous instrumentality does not create automatic liability when a third party takes that instrumentality and uses it in an illegal act. As long as the dangerous instrumentalities are kept in accordance with statutory regulations, the law does not impose civil liability under the present allegations."

This website contains other recent North Carolina cases.