Hunter's Suit Shot Down

A Maricopa County jury took only a few hours last week to inform an aggrieved bear hunter that his lawsuit was way off target.

That's how long the panel deliberated in the case of Paul Hobel, who had sued a Utah man after an April 1997 shooting accident on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation 200 miles northeast of Phoenix ("Bearing Witness," Paul Rubin, January 17).

The Phoenix fire captain sued Paul Zamboni of Orem, Utah, two years after the accident in which he'd suffered a serious gunshot wound to his abdomen. Undisputed testimony during the six-day trial in Judge Kenneth Mangum's courtroom showed Zamboni hadn't seen the camouflaged Hobel before he shot twice at a brown bear on the reservation.

Both shots missed badly, with the second .300-caliber bullet striking Hobel's belt buckle before perforating his bowel. A lifelong hunter, the 50-year-old Hobel survived his brush with death, and has returned both to firefighting (he's an arson investigator) and big-game hunting. However, his lawyers argued Hobel suffers from irritable bowel syndrome as a result of the accident.

The lawsuit contended Zamboni -- who was 19 at the time of the shooting -- had violated basic hunter-safety rules in firing recklessly into the brush. In the end, the jury disagreed.

Zamboni's attorney, Chris Henrichsen, told jurors that the accident had been just that -- an unavoidable accident. As for the unique nature of the tort, he told the jury, "I'm 99.9 percent sure that you are not going to see a case like this again."

One of Hobel's attorneys, Kent Hammond, asked jurors to award his client up to $600,000 in the case. "Paul didn't ask to be shot in the woods," he said in his closing statement. "Paul didn't ask to have irritable bowel syndrome. But what Paul is asking for is justice."

Hammond quoted William Shakespeare in trying to evoke sympathy for his client: "'He who mocks the scar has not felt the pain of the wound.' The scars in this case run deep for Paul Hobel."

The reference to the Bard led a courthouse wag to recite another famous Shakespearean quote, this one from Macbeth.

"I bear a charmed life," Macbeth said in that one, which could apply to Hobel (whose life was spared), Zamboni (who won his case), and the brown bear (who apparently lived to see another day).

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin