Liquor, guns, and duty in Utah

Herland v. Izatt, No. 20120586 (Utah Jan. 30, 2015).

 Utah Supreme Court liquor guns duty of care

Neely Creager went to a party at Travis Izatt’s house. Creager got drunk. Then, while she and Izatt were looking at Izatt’s guns, Creager picked up one of them and shot herself in the head with it. Creager’s estate sued Izatt for negligence. For purposes of this decision, the parties have stipulated that Creager shot herself accidentally, not purposely. 

The question before the Utah Supreme Court is one of legal duty: Do Utah gun owners owe a duty of reasonable care to an intoxicated person to whom they supply a firearm, or to third parties injured by that intoxicated person? The court says that gun owners do indeed have a duty of reasonable care. This duty is enforceable in tort as long as the firearm owner, in some way or another, actively supplied the gun—as opposed to failing to lock it up properly, for example. The court cautions that, under the rule of comparative negligence, when the drunk person’s negligence exceeds the gun owner’s, the drunk person cannot recover from the gun owner. I imagine, however, that if a gun owner negligently gives a gun to an intoxicated person who then accidentally shoots a third party, the third party can recover from both the gun owner and the intoxicated person, with damages allocated between those two based on fault.