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Fatal Shooting Not a Willful Act – Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

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What does this mean?

You can shoot someone, the person dies and you can get this debt discharged in bankruptcy?

The answer is:   It depends.

Although the act can be unacceptably reckless, it may not be willful.

Example:    A 17-year old debtor shot his friend in the basement of his home.  The Debtor removed the gun from his pocket, waived it around and played with it.  The gun fired and killed his friend.    Two days later the debtor turned himself in to the police and explained that he thought the gun was not loaded.

Ultimately, the debtor pled guilty to 2nd degree reckless homicide while armed with a dangerous weapon.

While serving 15 years in prison, the victim’s parents obtained a wrongful death judgment against the Debtor.

The Debtor filed for Chapter 7 relief and the parent’s filed an adversary proceeding in Bankruptcy Court so that the Debtor would not be able to discharge this debt.

The Judge ruled that because the shooter did not think the gun was loaded, the debtor could not have believed that waiving the gun was substantially certain to injure his friend.   Although the shooter’s conduct was unacceptably reckless with tragic consequences, even gross recklessness does not quality as a willful injury as ruled by the Bankruptcy Court.

In this case and particular circumstances, the debt was discharged since it was not considered a willful and malicious act by the Debtor.