Have People Died While Playing Paintball?

Paintball Is a Safe Sport and Deadly Accidents Are Rare

Paintball game (speedball)

Petr Kadlec/Wikimedia Commons/CC by SA 3.0 

Paintball is a very safe sport, but the short answer is yes, there are several confirmed cases of people who have been killed while playing paintball and some anecdotal stories. Overall, there have been very few deaths from paintball and most of those have been related to carelessness or indirect causes.

Have People Died Being Hit in a Paintball Game?

There have been a few instances reported in which men have died (either during or shortly after a game) from heart attacks after being shot in the chest. Anyone who has played paintball knows that getting hit when you are not expecting it can surprise you. If you are nearly ready to have a heart attack, that surprise could be the difference that pushes you over the edge.

Tip: Anyone who participates in active sports and has a preexisting condition should consult with their doctor before playing. 

In another incident, The Telegraph reported in a 2001 story that a 39-year-old man died from a stroke a few days after a paintball game. Though he did have a history of migraines, he also received a shot to the back of his head by another player from about 8-10 feet away. It is stories like this that remind us that paintballs can travel as fast as 200 mph and that we should be careful in our aim while on the field, especially in close proximity.

Tip: If you or another player receives a hit to an unprotected part of the head, keep a close eye on them. It would be best to seek medical attention to ensure nothing is wrong.

The Hidden Dangers of Handling CO2 Tanks

The second way that several people have been killed is from CO2 tanks firing like rockets. The valve on a CO2 tank screws into the bottle, and is generally held in place by epoxy or a thread lock. When a consumer removes the valve, they have to break the thread lock. When the valve is replaced, it is now easier to unscrew.

What has happened is that players have tried to unscrew their full CO2 tank from their gun and in the process have actually unscrewed the bottle from the valve. When the valve comes off the bottle, the bottle becomes a rocket and can kill by blunt trauma.

Companies have learned that people will remove valves and then improperly replace them. Since 2003, valves have an added safety feature: if you begin to unscrew the valve, it will begin to leak before you can completely remove the valve from the bottle. The effect is that CO2 rockets should not occur with newer tanks.

Tip: It is best to never remove the valve at home, even with these newer tanks. Also, adults who have carefully reviewed proper procedure should disassemble paintball guns after the games. Children may not pay close attention to safety matters after the excitement of a game.

Any other paintball-related deaths are indirect to the game and often caused by absolute carelessness. Again, there are very few of these, but they do warrant mention if only to add to the discussion of safety:

  • A young paintball player was reportedly run over by a hayride vehicle near a paintball field.
  • One report states that teenagers were shooting paintball guns at random cars. An angry driver ran the teens' car off the road and one was ejected and killed.

Is the Paintball Gun a Deadly Weapon?

No. While someone could come up with some crazy way to use paintball guns as a deadly weapon (maybe as a bludgeon), a paintball gun cannot kill a person when used as it is intended (or even as it wasn't intended). Paintball guns simply do not shoot fast enough and the projectile is not heavy enough to cause any permanent damage.

To the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever been killed by being hit by a paintball where the paintball was the cause of a fatal injury. The biggest risk is for eye injury when people play without a mask or remove their mask while on the field.

How to Prevent Serious Paintball Injuries

Almost every paintball-related death is preventable. Of course, accidents can happen, but the majority can be avoided if everyone on the field follows the basic safety rules and uses common sense.