Liability for Injuries from BB, Pellet and Paintball Guns

Every year there are a significant number of incidents in which people are injured by a BB or pellet gun, or by a paint gun. Most of those incidents involve children.

Approximately 19,000 children suffer eye injuries each year due to accidents involving air guns.

While most injuries are relatively minor, serious injury can result, including injury to the eye. In rare circumstances, other types of serious injury or death have occurred, usually due to the victim being hit in the head, but sometimes due to the victim's being struck in the heart or spinal cord.

When might a manufacturer, owner or user of an air gun be liable for injuries?

Design Issues

Some manufacturers of air guns, such as pellet and BB guns, have been alleged to have been negligent in their design, such that the weapons appear loaded while a BB or pellet remains in the gun. Additionally, some BB guns may be predisposed to jam, creating a potential hazard when the jam is cleared.

Foreseeable Misuse

As most children who grew up around BB guns are aware, a lot of kids are very careless with their BB guns, and don't recognize their potential dangerousness.

Many serious injuries occur when a child, not realizing a BB or pellet gun to be loaded, "shoots" what he believes will be a blast of air into the hair of a friend. Injuries can also occur when a child hammers on a blocked or jammed gun, inadvertently causing it to fire when the obstruction clears. If these acts are deemed to be acts of foreseeable misuse, and a safer design was both possible and reasonable to implement, the manufacturer may be liable.

Although it seems obvious that pointing and firing a gun of any sort at any person, including a pellet gun or BB gun, is a potentially dangerous act, even when the shooter honestly believes the gun to be unloaded, when an injury results a manufacturer is potentially liable under the doctrine of foreseeable misuse.

Parental Liability

In some cases, an injured person will be able to make a claim against the parents of the shooter, arguing that the parents should be held liable for the injuries along with the shooter.

  • If the parents of the shooter are taking care of the child who is injured by a paint gun, BB or pellet gun, it may be alleged that they violated their duty to provide adequate supervision to the child.
  • Even if the child is not in their care, the parents may be alleged to have been negligent in the supervision of their own child, or in their child's access and use of the BB or pellet gun which caused the injury.
  • Parents may also be potentially liable if they allow their children to play with paint guns, but do not provide proper safety equipment, especially eye protection, or don't take adequate steps to ensure that protective equipment is used.
Copyright © 2005 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on May 8, 2018.