The family of an Arizona firearms instructor killed by a 9-year-old girl wielding an Uzi has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Nevada-based owners of the shooting range where the man was employed.
A family from New Jersey was vacationing in Las Vegas in August 2014, when they took a shuttle to the Last Stop outdoor shooting range in northwestern Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas. The father fired the Mini Uzi 9mm first, then his daughter took her turn.
While the parents took video of their daughter learning to handle the gun, firearms instructor Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., helped her position the submachine gun, take aim at a target in the distance and fire a few single rounds before switching the gun to the automatic setting. As Vacca stood next to the girl, she opened fire, but the recoil caused the gun to wrench up and to the left where Vacca was standing. He was shot in the head. Unaware that he was shot, the girl dropped the gun and complained that it hurt her shoulder. It was then that another employee saw Vacca and began rendering first aid. He was airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital where he died.
The local sheriff's office declined to file charges. The case was determined to be an industrial accident and was handed over for review by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH). Arizona statutes do not provide rules or standards for workplace safety at firing ranges, according to an ADOSH official. It is up to the individual employers still has to provide general safety and health guidelines for their employees. The agency found no serious violations but recommended the shooting range have a safety officer, limit the weapon selections for certain shooters and ensure shooters are comfortable with weapons before they are placed on automatic.
Safety regulations for such businesses fall under state rather than local purview, however, state statutes primarily deal with noise levels. No laws govern training protocols for firearms instructors, safety guidelines or age restrictions, and there is no regulatory authority to enforce them.
There are no federal laws that regulate the operation of shooting ranges. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducts inspections of federal firearms licensing, but the audits are limited to gun dealers and their acquisition and sale of guns.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by the instructor's family claims the shooting range was negligent in allowing an “unfit user” to handle “an unreasonably dangerous firearm” and claims they failed to provide a safe work environment. The suit seeks a jury trial to determine damages for Vacca's widow and four children, his ex-wife and his mother.
In a civil suit, there are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages refers to money awarded to compensate for actual losses such as future earnings, medical bills, and funeral expenses. Punitive damages are considered punishment and awarded when the defendant's behavior is found to be especially harmful.
If you believe your loved one died as a result of someone else's recklessness or negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.