Civil Liability: Even If Your Defensive Gun Use Was Ruled Justified, It May Not Be Over

paperwork computer tired

Shutterstock

By Rob Geiger

You’ve survived the scariest moment of your life, successfully defending yourself against an attacker. You’ve also made it through an exhaustive criminal investigation, where you were exonerated after asserting that you acted in justified self-defense.

It appears your life can return to normal. Not so fast . . .

It’s Not Over

Depending on your situation, you could be facing another legal battle in civil court brought by the attacker or their family. After being cleared of criminal charges, that may sound impossible,  but it’s not. And in some states, it’s more likely to happen.

“People have a very visceral reaction to a bad guy turning around and suing them or the bad guy’s family suing them, but it does occur,” said Emily Taylor, an attorney with Walker & Taylor. “People think it shouldn’t be allowed, especially after they were cleared in criminal court.”

The Paperwork Is Just Beginning

However, America’s justice system allows anyone to sue anyone at any time — for any reason — even if there’s no legal justification. All it takes is filing the papers. The person being sued is then served and they, in turn, must answer the charge and respond to discovery requests, which we recommend hiring a lawyer to do.

It’s not a function of the court system to go through every legal filing and void the frivolous ones. That burden falls on the person being sued, who must respond to the lawsuit and bring that fact to the court’s attention with a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgement. But by that point, the costs are already adding up.

Even in a situation where a criminal trial exonerates the person who defended themselves, that doesn’t necessarily give them relief from a civil suit or civil liability, especially when factoring in where they live.

Many states have protection from civil liability after you were found to have justifiably defended yourself, particularly in your castle,” Taylor said. “Some states even extend that beyond your castle. But on the other side of the spectrum, you have states with no protection at all.

“If you do have to answer the call, in most instances you will need to re-litigate your justified use of force in a civil court. That will include hiring a lawyer, answering discovery, taking depositions, and ultimately going to trial in front of another jury and proving once again that what you did was justified. This will be very expensive, time-consuming, and stressful.

“In most states, the best-case scenario is that you win the civil case after all of this headache and heartache. In some states, you can get an award of costs and attorneys’ fees against the bad guy, but this is unlikely, and it is even more unlikely that you will be able to collect.”

What Happens If You Lose?

Conversely, if you lose in civil court, you’ll likely be responsible for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and any other damage you caused to the bad guy. If the attacker dies and it’s found to be a wrongful death, you’ll again be responsible for medical bills, funeral costs, plus a the family’s loss of companionship and the loss of financial contributions the attacker might have provided during his life.

“We always urge gun owners to remember that deadly force in self-defense is a last resort to be used only in a true case of life or death,” Taylor said. “If you do absolutely everything right, it’s still a life-altering event. And even at the civil level, it can be very disruptive.”

And expensive.

comments

  1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Well, welcome to the real world.

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      Yep. Similar thing happened to OJ…

      1. avatar Mercury says:

        And he lost so much money in that civil suit by a descendant that he had to write a book calles “If I did it: here’s how it happened.” just to pay the bills and keep his house.

        1. avatar Arizona Free says:

          But in Florida your home is a protected asset and his nfl pension is off limits. Seniors can use the equity in their homes to live off of and have it protected at the same time.

        2. avatar Geoff "The witch finally met her bucket of water" PR says:

          “Seniors can use the equity in their homes to live off of and have it protected at the same time.”

          Yeah, a form of a ‘Reverse Mortgage’ can work very well, if you weren’t planning on passing it on to an heir.

          it can be especially valuable their kid turns out to be a worthless troll… 🙂

        3. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Yeah, a form of a ‘Reverse Mortgage’ can work very well, if you weren’t planning on passing it on to an heir.”

          I recently settled a reverse mortgage for an elderly aunt. It was a two year nightmare. I will gladly detail the mess if anyone is interested, but suffice it to say you don’t want to be related to anyone who holds a reverse mortgage.

  2. avatar StLPro2A says:

    The only way to win a gun fight is to avoid the gun fight.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      +1000

      And if you absolutely have to use your gun, be sure the event is within range of a video camera so you have evidence to back you. If at all possible.

      1. avatar Robb says:

        After watching a few seasons of The First 48, its plainly obvious cameras are everywhere in the modern urban jungle.

        Outside the city they are less so but still there.

        Baring being out in a field/remote location, I suspect odds are something will be on camera.

    2. How true. If you’re too old to run, too old to fight, a concealed carry permit is a necessary burden though.

      1. avatar Thixotropic says:

        “Never mess with an old man. If he is too old or too tired to fight, he’ll just kill you…”
        Clint Smith, Master Tactical Weapons Trainer, Thunder Ranch, Oregon

        1. avatar F mr clit Smith says:

          Well Mr Clit Smith….. If that old man is faster on the draw…. then MAYBE that old muhfuggah wins….. if not, then I will….

        2. avatar Miner49er says:

          “faster on the draw…. ”

          Gee, I wish I lived in the Old West too!

  3. avatar DJ says:

    US Law Shield, no cap on civil or criminal defense.

    1. avatar Richard Coon says:

      Been a member for four years. Hopefully, I’ll never need it.

    2. avatar Rusty - Always Carry - Chains says:

      Yep, joined up two years ago. Hope to God I never have need of it, but with the complete insanity of what has been going on and the fact that criminals do roam out from the higher crime areas here in the Atlanta area, caution, discression, and a dashcam are your friends.

    3. avatar Thixotropic says:

      Same for ACLDN.

      Became a member this year.

      1. avatar Manse Jolly says:

        **Same here**

  4. avatar GunnyGene says:

    Selling insurance again? Or just trying to scare people into not defending themselves?

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      I don’t have insurance. I will shoot a man (or woman) before you can say, “Don’t do it!.” What are they going to do? Sue me? No attorney would take the case. Not enough to win.

    2. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Selling insurance again?”

      Does it matter? If a certified, incarcerated lunatic tell you the earth is round, does that throw the proposition in doubt? If an insurance agent tells you that without whatever insurance product, the financial result in destitution, does the source of the information make the truth a lie? If the hardware salesman tells you that chainsaws are better than hacksaws for cutting down trees, would you disregard the information just because the guy was “selling something”?

      There are new subscribers coming here who may not have all the background of others. They can take the knowledge of articles like this, and make their own judgements about the need for the items presented. If information is correct and useful, the motivation for providing it is irrelevant.

      Lecture – Off.

    3. avatar possum says:

      Buying insurance for the defensive use of a gunm is like conceding the right to defend yourself is a privilege. With enough support from “viewers like you” who buy gunm insurance, gunm insurance will become mandatory. Mandatory means money, money means the poh can’t legally have a gunm. And the system kinda digs that.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “With enough support from “viewers like you” who buy gunm insurance, gunm insurance will become mandatory.”

        Like auto insurance, or homeowner insurance for those with a mortgage?

        Oh, forgot. You have a right to buy an automobile, but not to travel on public roadways. That is a privilege permitted for use of your motorized property.

        I owe nothing to other gun owners when it comes to using financial tools to mitigate risk. If you can’t afford something, there are legal ways to raise the income level. Building a society on preventing the poor from being disadvantaged is…, well…., is…what’s the word? Starts with a “U”. Dang. Just can’t remember.

        1. avatar Ron says:

          No. The issue is with being forced to do so. We’re not talking about operating a machine on a government owned road here. It makes sense that insurance is required for such a task. But to carry a gun? Absolutely not. Such a system would be very easy to manipulate into creating a prohibited right by de facto.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          There has already been one bill in Congress to mandate liability insurance; got 15min of fame, and disappeared. However, it will come back until it is passed.

          Not a fan of mandated liability insurance, but the gun grabbers would be foolish not to use mandatory insurance as a bargaining chip for some other restriction.

        3. avatar Ron says:

          Ah. I read your post wrong.

          Disregard.

  5. avatar arc - the annoying one says:

    IIRC, Texas shields me from civil liability if found justified, so I got that going for me.

  6. avatar MrMax says:

    Sad, but true.

  7. avatar Defens says:

    In Washington state if you’re exonerated in a self defense shooting, you’re immune from civil litigation related to the defensive use.

    1. avatar James A. "Jim" Farmer says:

      That is good for Washington state. For way too long our nation has been plagued and cursed with deceitful crooked lawyers! As far as I’m concerned this scum isn’t a damned bit better than treasonous socialist politicians who perpetrate their vile “LBJ/KGB” style anti-gun laws, and a corrupt Earl Warren Supreme Court type criminal injustice system which favors the criminal element over the crime victim!

    2. avatar Darkman says:

      Same in Iowa. If shoot is ruled justified you can’t be sued in a civil action. #Votes Matter

  8. avatar Steve B says:

    I have had used Second Call Defense for self defense insurance purposes, because legal fees defending myself would bankrupt my family. I’m not advocating SCD, but I think it makes sense to have some type of insurance specifically for firearm self defense, because many insurances, such as “Umbrella Policy” insurance (which we also have for up to $1MM) doesn’t always cover anything firearm related.

  9. avatar Ralph says:

    Or, you can avoid all this paperwork and stuff by just letting the bad guy kill you.

    1. avatar Reich Chancellor Harris says:

      Exactly. Self defense just isn’t worth it. It’s too expensive and you could go to prison. Better to just let yourself be forcefully sodomized and murdered.

      Self defense is white privilege anyway. You rich whites should submit your property, body, and family to the ownership of minorities.

      1. avatar Hitler was A OK says:

        Yes…. that’s exactly what Hitler would’ve said…..”just hand over for property to minorities”…… are you hicks really THAT stupid?

        1. avatar Ron says:

          Actually that makes sense. The Jews were definitely forced to hand over everything. According to the New Fascist Left, whites are the new Jews.

          Biden to the left is just like Hindenburg or the Kaiser was to the Nazis. Once they take power, they’ll put him out to pasture and ignore him.

        2. avatar SKP5885 says:

          Clearly someone…..YOU…..doesn’t understand sarcasm. LOL.

      2. avatar Miner49er says:

        “Better to just let yourself be forcefully sodomized… “

        He said hopefully…

        Man, the movie that must play inside your head has really got to be something…

  10. avatar The Rookie says:

    There was a case in Indiana back in 2017 where a woman named Kystie Jaehnen shot a drugged up perp*** who was overpowering a police officer and was about to take his gun from him. Indiana law at the time already had some protections in place. Apparently not enough, because the deceased perp’s family sued her and the officer for excessive force.

    The case was later dropped, and state rep Jim Lucas helped push through legislation that fixed the loopholes in the existing law to ensure complete civil immunity, but the woman still went through a couple years of hell. All for saving the life of a police officer who was about to be done in by a dope fiend.

    BTW, it should come as a surprise to nobody that the Indiana chapter of Mommies Demand came out against the legislation, saying it would increase gun violence and “encourage vigilantism”. *sigh*….

    ***Toxicology screen found meth and four or five other drugs in his system. Guy was completely out of his gourd when he got shot.

  11. avatar WI Patriot says:

    Civil liability works both ways, with the loser paying…

  12. avatar Chi-Chi Montezuma says:

    Start suing surviving criminals and their estates and families for damages. What comes around goes around.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Start suing surviving criminals and their estates and families for damages. What comes around goes around.”

      Suing for what recompense? From what/which “estate”?

      Besides, it is one thing to win a judgement, quite another to collect anything. People have told me that winning was actually the easy part. It was gaining a court order forcing the loser to “pay up”, and even more difficult to get the local LE to actually serve the order. Then there was the process to round up “assets” and convert to cash. My personal attorney, Guido Sarducci of the law firm Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, refuses to launch a civil suit unless his fee would be at least $50,000. (I asked once why the minimum possible fee was so high. Guido looked down at his desk and whispered, “It’s a rule of our silent investor.”)

      You can win, you can’t break even, you can’t quit the game.

      1. avatar warfab says:

        So it’s just as hard for the criminal and/or family to collect from someone who successfully defended themselves? Does this swing both ways, or it the issue that typically the low life thugs who get popped trying to mess with the wrong concealed carrier don’t have any money to begin with?

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “So it’s just as hard for the criminal and/or family to collect from someone who successfully defended themselves? ”

          Yes, it can cut both ways. It would be an interesting study to determine the ratio/liklihood of either party to achieve more than they would spend. Such consideration would be part of the analysis and evaluation regarding acquiring personal liability insurance, or pre-paid legal representation.

      2. avatar Ralph says:

        I practiced law for over 35 years. I found that plaintiffs won, even when they lost. Why? Because they wanted to be in court – defendants didn’t – and plaintiffs wanted to rake the defendant over the coals as much as they could.

        In our great nation, the loser does not pay (except maybe their own costs, sometimes). If the loser paid everything, our society would miraculously become less litigious very quickly. But as long as plaintiffs get a free shot, our system will always svck.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          I understand that the initial “advantage” may go to the plaintiff. That is, the cost of filing a suit may be small, relative to the potential “win”. However, the more financially prepared defendant may have total advantage from then on: large pockets that can bankrupt an individual, or financially small firm. There have been attempts to limit settlements/awards via legislation, and laws that force a plaintiff to post a bond equal to the expected legal costs of the defendant (which the defendant may claim will be enormous). So far, the results are checkered at best, and do not actually equalize the advantages of both parties. However…..

          Being the self-proclaimed all-knowing internet genious, I have a solution.

          In civil cases, the proclaimed actual, direct damages the plaintiff puts forward should be the maximum award possible (including court costs if prevailing). Any notion of “punitive” damages should remain the realm of “the state”, as the state has the police power to levy punishment. That would mean any amount of award above the plaintiffs direct damages/costs would be awarded to one, or more, levels of government.

          This process would work toward ending, for the plaintiff, the casino aspects of sketchy law suits. It would also slow the ferver with which some opportunistic attornies would puff up a case in hotes “hitting it big”. However, nothing in the concept would prevent a wealthy defendant from bankrupting a smaller plaintiff. Still haven’t figured out how to stop that.

    2. avatar SKP5885 says:

      There is a wide saying that “You should never throw good money after bad money”. To put it another way, never throw dollars at dimes.

      YMMV

  13. avatar Wally1 says:

    Off topic, well maybe, I am always amazed that good citizens that are informed that they have a terminal disease don’t take a lot of these scumbags and corrupt politicians out. What are they going to do to them if caught, , take care of them until they die? Usually many will die before they ever go to trial. We need a new crop of hero’s.

    1. avatar Chris says:

      I’m here Wally1, I’m one of those people. Currently not terminal but even at some point you see something so wrong you have to act, even if it means the end of you. Not a threat it’s just how I feel.

    2. avatar Josey Wales says:

      @Wally…..Your post is one of the very few posts that really is deep in its ability to make a man think (and I’ve been reading TTAG since 14/15!) Indeed, I wonder why more people who have “nothing to lose” and have a poor health care plan just don’t say f#ck it, ill let my actions speak, go to jail, get free healthcare and when they send me to the hospital for the “morphine drip” my family will be by my bedside either way but it’s FREE and my actions spoke volumes…now finish the drip, bury me in the state cemetery and my estate has no bills to pay. Genius!!!!

      1. avatar possum says:

        Medical aint that great in the pen, the living conditions suck for an old guy dieing from something. I bet you’d kick the bucket long before the morphine drip. Then add the fact you might be in county for two years. Dude there’s no hope, your going to die before they kill yah!!!. ,,,on a serious note, and I’ve been going to mention this sooner, I do not think J in Florida is with us anymore, he said he was short once. If that’s the case, God bless you J, miss yah.

    3. avatar Miner49er says:

      “When I get mad
      And I get pissed
      I grab my pen
      And I write out a list
      Of all the people
      That won’t be missed
      You’ve made my shitlist”

  14. avatar Chris says:

    I just don’t care. One doesn’t need thoughts of prison or being sued for millions in the split second of a self defense situation. You’d think organizations like the nra would help but they don’t, after 12 years of membership their legal line wouldn’t even help me back when assault weapons ban expired and in turn the first red flag laws were secretly implemented within the nics system and I was flagged for the first time my in life trying to buy my first g20. MN BCA are the ones I had to fight and while I won my case in the end it cost me money, time and stress and we still don’t know why the system flagged me or why my first appeal done on my own was rejected which included fingerprints and full criminal record by sheriff of county i lived in. Even my final ruling which I won with lawyer didn’t include the why, not even a apology. I couldn’t imagine the bullsh*t one would have to go through with a legal defensive killing both criminal and civil, especially nowadays when most prosecutors and the mindless general population(jurors) are against punishing criminals but for punishing those who practice their freedoms. Don’t let these fears get you killed.

    1. avatar Manse Jolly says:

      Can’t imagine?

      See Zimmerman and several others for examples.

    2. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Don’t let these fears get you killed.”

      Not reading where anyone makes this a binary situation: you must have financial resources to withstand a law suit, or you shouldn’t use a firearm in self-defense.

      As to the hesitation in a DGU because of considerations of financial risk, a person analyzing the finances at that critical moment, isn’t prepared for the situation, and probably shouldn’t be carrying a gun. The consideration of financial risk should be settled long before a DGU becomes a reality. Just as the decision to take a life without remorse must be made long before it is required.

      1. avatar warfab says:

        “you must have financial resources to withstand a law suit, or you shouldn’t use a firearm in self-defense”

        Disgusting, but realistic. We can add the natural right to self defense to the long list of rights that the wealthy enjoy and the poor do not. The process is the punishment. If you’ve got enough money, the process isn’t that big a deal.

        1. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “We can add the natural right to self defense to the long list of rights that the wealthy enjoy and the poor do not.”

          Everyone has a natural right to self-defense. There is no universal right to equal circumstances. One of the motivations to move out of poverty is to increase your standing to be able to benefit from your rights; changing circumstances to the better. However, the reality remains…you “have” only those rights you can personally defend or enforce.

  15. avatar possum says:

    911 , what’s your emergency? “Mah friend!, he fell out if the tree stand!!. I think he’s dead” Well first make sure he’s dead. “Ahhright”, click clack, *kaboom ,,,,,,kaboom* “He’s dead, now what do I do?”

  16. avatar jakee308 says:

    There are some of us who are called suit proof. We are retired and our income is solely SS which is protected from the result of civil suits (garnishments, seizures, etc.) and our dwelling is our sole residence and not worth trying to seize and sell.

    Also personal items of of such low value no one will try to seize those either.

    Let them sue. I’ll sue them for the lawyers fees. I’d rather I had the wealth but it’s good to know I’m not worth the trouble.

    1. avatar Flawed Reasoning says:

      I’m thinking your “reasoning” is flawed…

  17. avatar Chip Bennett says:

    In Indiana, juatifiqble self-defense means that it is over. If someone wants to push it civilly, they will lose statutorily and will be on the hook for respondent’s attorney fees.

    Thank you, Guy Relford and Jim Lucas.

  18. avatar Kenneth Phillips says:

    In Texas, wining the criminal case has no effect on civil action for wrongful death.
    1 good reason to ban lawyers from the legislature. A lawyer in the legislature is like a fox in the hen house. His vote is always going to be whatever will put the most money in his pocket. You want good laws, get the lawyers out of the legislature.

    1. avatar GunnyGene says:

      Shakespeare, Henry VI:

      “DICK. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

      Jack CADE. Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment, that parchment, being scribbl’d o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings; but I say ‘t is the bee’s wax, for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.”

    2. That’s not correct. Under a bill signed into law by Governor Perry in 2007, Texans are immune from civil liability for personal injury or death that results from the lawful use of force or deadly force.

      https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/CP/htm/CP.83.htm

      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-texas-deadlyforce/texas-signs-new-self-defense-by-gun-law-idUSN2721289620070327

  19. avatar Hannibal says:

    You can do everything right and still lose

    Avoid stupid people doing stupid things.

  20. avatar possum says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, no gunm insurance and getting sued. The only logical plan I came up with was, gut shoot them, drag them back to your hole, torture the families information out of them, then kill him and the family.

  21. avatar Darkman says:

    Two teens with firearms attempt to rob Armed Citizen. They chose poorly.
    Des Moines police identify 16-year-old killed in shooting police say was justified
    https://www.kcci.com/article/des-moines-police-identify-16-year-old-killed-in-justified-self-defense/34016781

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      “Des Moines police identify 16-year-old killed in shooting police say was justified”,

      Maybe this is why we sometimes try minors as adults.

    2. avatar Chip Bennett says:

      PlIce say no charges will be filed? Sounds like felony murder charges should be filed against the surviving attacker.

  22. avatar Geo Washington says:

    No matter how funny or cute, or destructive people think they can be in this life, it’s only for a short period of time. 70 ish years on the average. No one will escape Gods judgement nor his penalties for breaking His laws. Ginsburg thought she had the world by the balls with her liberal rants for abortion. She used her authority to uphold murder so she is responsible for the blood of millions of babies. I doubt she’s in Heaven right now. I severely doubt it. Many people joke and think the taking of a life is a trivial thing. Have you done it? Its not. Please don’t laugh it off. Fact is we all have to die someday. And according to Jesus there is absolutely no escape from Hell. Sadly many people won’t figure this out until they are burning in pain for a few hundred years. Very very sad. Repent from sin and accept Jesus today it’s the only way out of a corrupt justice system.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email