Rains v. Bend of the River
124 S.W.3d 580 (Tenn. App. 2003)

  • Rains was 18 years old. He stole a handgun from his father. Rains then went to Bend of the River (a gun store) and purchased some ammunition. Then killed himself.
    • Selling ammo to persons under 21 was a violation of Federal law.
  • Rains’ family sued Bend for negligence.
  • Bend moved for summary judgment. The Trial Court refused, Bend Appealed.
  • The Appellate Court granted summary judgment and dismissed the claims against Bend.
    • The Appellate Court found that the standard for conduct is reasonable care. Most people who buy ammo don’t commit suicide, so it was not reasonably foreseeable that Rains intended to hurt himself when he entered the store.
    • The Appellate Court felt that just because Bend violated a Federal Statute, that didn’t automatically make them liable for a civil claim.
      • “The negligence doctrine is not a magical transformational formula that automatically creates a private negligence cause of action for the violation of every Statute.”
      • The fact that the Legislature has enacted a Statute defining criminal conduct does not mean that the Courts must adopt it as a standard of civil liability.
    • In addition, in order to prove negligence, Rains would have to show that Bend’s actions were the proximate cause (also known as the legal cause) of the harm. While the purchase of ammo was a key step that led to Rains’ death, it was not the root cause.