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How Florida's Stand Your Ground Law Holds Up In A Personal Injury Case

Posted by Steven A. Bagen

Jun 3, 2014 1:36:00 PM

bigstock-Decorative-Scales-Of-Justice-46278739While the Florida “Stand Your Ground Law” has been in effect since 2005 there are still many questions about how far that law goes. A recent court finding challenges the application of the Florida stand your ground law to a civil action.

What Does This Mean?

The Florida Stand Your Ground Law is built on presumptions. Presumed force of violence against you in the commission of a crime is necessary to justify deadly force. Under older statutes, it was necessary to make every attempt to retreat or avoid deadly force. New laws allow for justified deadly force when your person or property is at risk during the commission of a violent crime.

While it may sound relatively simple, it is important to remember that it’s not an easy defense to make. It is also important to remember that if you are attacked by someone who claims that they presumed violence and intended harm against you, you should be aggressive in pursuing your own case.

  • The stand your ground law is not an escape from prosecution. If you kill someone, even if they are committing a crime against you, your case may be pursued and you will have to defend your actions.

  • If you are prosecuted, the burden of proof is upon you to show how and why deadly force was required.

  • Legal defense will make a motion for immunity at the appropriate time during the prosecution.

A decision will then be rendered as to whether you will or will not receive immunity.

You can see how critical it is to understand all of the elements of this kind of case, and to have qualified representation from experienced attorneys. Every element of the situation is examined carefully under the Florida law.

What Is Immunity?

When the state attorney files a case against someone who claims to have acted under the Stand Your Ground premise, the defense attorney will file a motion to dismiss based on evidence that the forcible actions to defend person or property are justifiable under the law. Immunity means that the prosecution of your case stops.

In the past, immunity has also instantly stopped civil actions against the person claiming the stand your ground defense. However, a new ruling makes immunity even more complicated, and may not protect against a civil lawsuit.

What Does This Mean In A Non-Criminal Case?

Let’s say you have defended yourself with deadly force. The person who threatened you was seriously injured by your actions. Your trial has gone forward, and you have proven that you acted within the constraints of the law. Your judge grants the immunity you have sought. You have “won” your case.

It’s All Over, Right?

Not necessarily. The defendant in the case – the person who threatened you – may file a lawsuit against you for the harm you did to them while you were defending yourself. Damages in these kinds of injury cases can range from covering medical bills to emotional damage from pain and suffering.

Let’s say you were beaten severely in an altercation with someone, and you press charges. They claim that you were threatening them, and use a stand your ground defense. In an ideal world, the truth would come out but say it didn’t go your way. Say your attacker gained immunity under the law and was not further prosecuted. You now can potentially pursue a civil case.

Change In The Law

The recent judgment was made after a defendant in a criminal case filed suit against the plaintiff in the civil case for restitution regarding the defendant’s injuries. The plaintiff in the criminal case used a baseball bat to defend himself against what he perceived to be a deadly threat from the defendant. The plaintiff gained immunity based on evidence that he perceived a threat in actions by the defendant. The defendant was seriously injured in the incident.

While the criminal case was proceeding, the defendant pursued a civil action against the plaintiff to gain compensation for his injuries. He challenged the immunity under Stand Your Ground, and asserted that the immunity granted in a criminal case should not be universal.

The Third District Court of Appeals eventually determined that an evidentiary hearing would need to be held in the civil case, just as it had been done in the criminal case. A judge would weigh the factual disputes related to the case and determine whether the plaintiff's immunity in his criminal case translates to immunity in his civil case.

Under this new court finding it will be necessary for the plaintiff to reprove his case, going through all of the facts and evidences again. He will have to defend himself against a civil action in an entirely new courtroom proceeding.

While there are other mitigating factors in the most recent case, including allegations against the plaintiff employer, this does open the gateway for other cases where an attacker can sue his or her victim for injuries sustained while the victim was defending him or herself.

It also means that someone seriously injured by another person claiming a stand your ground defense can, in fact, have recourse for losses in a civil case. In the event of a civil case, the court will need to award attorney’s fees, court costs, and expenses incurred during the hearing of the case.

Evidence Is Key

The involvement of qualified legal counsel is essential to ironing out the twists and turns of stand your ground cases. The reality of the Florida Stand Your Ground Law is that immunity is a complex matter requiring legal scrutiny.

Talk to Steven Bagen Attorney Gainesville Ocala Florida

Topics: Personal Injury Law