Kramschuster v. Shawn E – Case Brief Summary (Wisconsin)

In Kramschuster v. Shawn E., 211 Wis. 2d 699, 565 N.W.2d 581 (Wis. Ct. App. 1997), the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin considered the grant of summary judgment in favor of Donald McClelland, the head of a deer hunting party.

McClelland planned a hunting trip for the opening day of deer hunting season. He invited two minors, including 15 year old Shawn E., a tenth grader who had completed hunter education and firearm safety courses, had hunted "numerous times" (including by himself), and was licensed and legally "permitted to hunt without adult supervision." Kramschuster, 565 N.W.2d 581 at 583.

After spending the night at a cabin on property that McClelland owned, the three set out in the dark for the adjacent property. Although McClelland did not own or lease that property, they planned to hunt there that morning.

When they arrived, "McClelland told Shawn where to sit, where the McClellands would be located and some generalized suggestions as to Shawn's field of fire so as to drive the deer toward the McClellands in the event Shawn missed the deer." Id.

McClelland, however, did not tell Shawn about a nearby path "that was used by other hunters seeking access to nearby hunting areas," nor did he tell Shawn "to wait for the official start of hunting season in that area or for sufficient light before firing his gun." Id.

"While it was still dark and before the official start of the hunting season, Shawn observed what he believed to be a group of deer. . . . but was in fact a group of hunters, which included Allen Kramschuster, walking up the trail." Id. Shawn "fired his weapon," killing Kramschuster. Id.

His widow sued Shawn, his insurer, and McClelland. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of McClelland, on the ground that he had no duty to Kramschuster, and that there was no evidence of McClelland's causal negligence.

On appeal, Mrs. Kramschuster argued that (1) McClelland had a duty to instruct Shawn about hunting rules against shooting too early and without adequate visibility; and (2) "McClelland had a duty to supervise Shawn as a member of his hunting party." Kramschuster, 565 N.W.2d 581 at 585.

She also suggested "that McClelland actively misled Shawn into shooting before the official start of the season and induced the erroneous belief that no one else would be in the area." Id.

Rejecting all these arguments, the Wisconsin appellate court affirmed the judgment because "there was no duty owed by McClelland." Kramschuster, 565 N.W.2d 581 at 583.

The court first considered "whether an adult hunter, who is not the child's parent, has a duty to supervise or instruct a fifteen-year-old certified and experienced hunter who is a member of the adult's hunting party." Kramschuster, 565 N.W.2d 581 at 584.

It "answered that question under the facts of that case in the negative because . . . it was not reasonably foreseeable that Shawn would flagrantly violate hunting rules he knew and understood." Id.

The Kramschuster Court specifically rejected the contention that McClelland had a duty, as the head of a hunting party, to ensure that an independent member of his party complied with fundamental hunting safety rules, by giving pre-hunt instructions.

In retrospect, admonitions about adequate light and adequate field of vision before shooting may have averted this tragedy. At the time in question, there were a myriad of other hunting safety rules that may also have come into play and could, under different facts, just as easily have supported allegations of negligence against McClelland. . . . The failure to reiterate basic hunting rules to an independent member of the hunting party does not create a foreseeably unreasonable risk of injury to another person under these facts. Because of his experience in hunting and education in firearm safety and because there was no understanding either expressed or implied that McClelland would instruct Shawn in regard to hunting safety regulations, we conclude that McClelland had no duty to so instruct prior to the commencement of this hunt. (Kramschuster, 565 N.W.2d 581 at 584-85.)