Punitive Damages Denied in Accidental Shooting (NY)

In Hahn v. Canty, the trial court (Orange County, New York) dismissed a claim for punitive damages in a case involving a fatal shooting. In Hahn, the decedent was accidentally shot by defendant Sean Canty, with the gun kept in the house by defendant Kevin Canty. Kevin Canty had told Sean when he was a child that the gun was not loaded when it was in the house, however Kevin apparently kept the gun hidden but loaded.

Sean and his friends found the gun one evening and thinking it was unloaded, pretended to shoot each other. Not a wise move.  Since the gun was loaded, it discharged and killed the decedent. Plaintiff sought punitive damages against defendants. The trial court dismissed the claim and held that in order to sustain a punitive damages claim, the defendant must be guilty of “quasicriminal conduct, utterly reckless behavior, a malicious intent to injure plaintiff or gross, wanton or willful fraud.” The trial court found that because there were no criminal charges and the defendant believed the gun was hidden, the defendant’s conduct did not vault the hurdle necessary to support a punitive damages claim.

Thanks to Alison Weintraub for her contribution to this post.  If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.