Posted on October 31, 2016 by Jon Gutmacher in Don West
Self-Defense Civil Suits in Florida
Civil Suits Involving Self-Defense in Florida
Most people believe the trauma of having to use lawful self-defense to protect yourself or your family from a criminal attack is bad enough. But what happens if the estate of the criminal you shoot sues you? Or worse still, what if your attacker survives, makes up some phony story, blames you, then charges you with excessive force?
For most people, the costs of defending against these kinds of legal actions can ruin them financially. And frankly, the mental stress involved often destroys their health, costs them their job and leads to families breaking apart. I’ve seen this happen far too often. The only real solution here is to get the absolute best self-defense protection plan on the market.
Let’s take a look at the two Florida laws that govern these types of self-defense legal scenarios: F.S. 776.085 and F.S. 776.032.
Law F.S.776.085 pertains to suits brought by an actual participant in a forcible felony, or the attempt of a felony. A suit may also be brought on the plaintiff’s behalf, for example, by his or her estate.
A good defense against these kinds of suits can be mounted if the criminal was convicted of a forcible felony or its attempt, or in absence of a conviction, lawyers can prove he or she participated in the crime.
A successful defendant (the party forced to use self-defense) is entitled to an award of costs and reasonable attorney fees after defending the suit. If the individual who brings the suit was convicted of the crime, that should stop the suit immediately. However, if no prosecution ensued because the culprit died, or if the attacker somehow beat the charges or got a “lesser” charge that isn’t a forcible felony or its attempt, you may have to fight to defend your justified use of force. Likewise, if your attacker somehow got a “withheld adjudication,” an open question still exists as to whether or not a withheld adjudication will be treated as a “conviction” in a civil suit.
Law F.S. 776.032, on the other hand, states that a person who uses lawful self-defense according to Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes is entitled to immunity from any civil suit brought “by the person . . . against whom the force was used.” It includes suits brought by someone on behalf of an estate, etc. A successful defendant is entitled to reasonable attorney fees, court costs, loss of income and all other expenses incurred in defending the suit.
Unfortunately, the law is unclear as to whether it would preclude a suit for negligence by an innocent bystander accidentally injured in the self-defense incident. Likewise, a possible question also exists as to whether or not the statute would prevent a civil suit for the use of excessive force in an otherwise lawful self-defense situation.
Right now, it’s unsettled as to whether a finding of immunity in a criminal case for the defendant can be used as a defense in a subsequent civil case – or whether that immunity is subject to being relitigated.
Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that you had to use self-defense. The criminal phase of your ordeal is all over, but you’re still seeing a mental health expert. One day, you hear the doorbell, and SURPRISE – it’s a process server advising you that you’re now being sued for everything you own! What does this mess legally entail in the state of Florida?
Well, aside from losing time in court, meeting with lawyers and figuring out how to pay for everything, civil case preparation is often more daunting than criminal case preparation. Maybe you’ll have the benefit of work accumulated during the criminal proceedings, but even then, you’ll have to repeat everything all over again, almost from scratch.
First, you’ll need investigators to interview witnesses, gather data and evidence, and take photos. Once the groundwork is complete, your attorneys will have to put a defense together. They’ll need to take extensive depositions from every important witness. These depositions let the attorneys know what to expect from witnesses if a trial takes place, and also tie witnesses to their testimony. Depositions give attorneys a chance to investigate whether someone’s version of a story is true, false, or simply misremembered.
Typical costs for witness depositions run at least $500 per person (and usually more). If it’s the deposition of an expert witness, figure around $2,500 to $10,000 per expert. And yes, you will need experts not only at deposition but also beforehand for confidential reports and other costly yet critical services.
After the confidential reports and depositions have been collected, your attorney will probably file a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. Both of these options are asking the court to decide on the case before the trial, or without a trial.
If you have a case where the person suing you was convicted of a forcible felony, chances are the case will be dismissed. Similarly, the case will be dismissed if you’ve already had criminal charges against you dropped on grounds of Chapter 776 immunity. Otherwise, except in clearly defined situations, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go to trial at a later date. Whatever the circumstances of your case happen to be, you won’t enjoy this process. The stress you and your family will experience is more than I can even describe.
The Advantages of a Self-Defense Protection Plan
If you want to mitigate self-defense legal risks and costs, you’d better have a comprehensive self-defense protection plan in place. In my opinion, the only self-defense coverage plans out there worth purchasing come from CCW Safe.
CCW Safe security plans cover the criminal, civil and administrative arena – including expert witness and deposition costs. Other plans (not CCW Safe) cover some of those expenses but exclude costs for investigators, experts and depositions, which typically run at least five grand – and in most cases fifteen to a hundred grand.
Unless you have lots of spare cash, be careful which plan you pick. From what I can tell, only CCW Safe defends members in a civil case if a bystander is accidentally shot and decides to sue. That alone is worth the price of admission.
I hope this article has helped you understand civil suits in Florida, as well as how important it is to make the right choice when selecting a self-defense protection plan. Stay safe out there!
Jon Gutmacher, Esq.