Lawsuits; Real threat or imagined


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online2mch
June 18, 2006, 10:50 AM
Occsionally read in the paper of citizens with legally owned firearms threatened with lawsuits after legally using them to shoot a BG, oops I mean "stop a threat". How often are these lawsuits successful. Even if not sucessful there's got to be a whole lot of hassle and expense.

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Biker
June 18, 2006, 10:58 AM
I've been in a civil court twice and won both easily. Luckily, my homeowner's insurance provided my lawyers and covered the expense and the judge made the BGs pay the insurance company back.:)

Biker

WT
June 18, 2006, 12:00 PM
I can't recall any lawsuits in my neighborhood against homeowners who shot illegal intruders.

Preacherman
June 18, 2006, 12:01 PM
It depends on three factors, really:

1. Where you live. Some states have laws that prevent civil lawsuits if your actions are found to be justified in terms of their criminal law.

2. Differences in race or ethnic background. There are certain parts of the country where race and ethnic tensions are higher than others. If you happen to shoot a BG of the "wrong" race, the odds of a lawsuit alleging racism, etc. are higher in these areas.

3. Shyster lawyers. We're afflicted with a plague of lawyers in this country, far too many of whom are unethical and unprincipled. If they can see an "angle" which would permit a lawsuit, they'll actually go to the family and offer to represent them on a contingency basis. Also, they know that many insurance companies will settle rather than fight a case in court - it's often cheaper. So, they'll file a lawsuit for a bazillion bucks, and settle quietly out of court for a few thousand. They get their bit of cash, the insurance company avoids an expensive court case, and you're left dangling.

Biker
June 18, 2006, 12:06 PM
Indeed Preach. In both of my suits, the BGs got a real bottomfeeder who basically wanted to settle out of court. When approached by my ins company about this, I flat out refused. In the end, it cost the BGs lawyers a lot of money for expenses such as PIs etc., and the BGs themselves owed my ins company a lot of money.
If you're right, fight. Don't give 'em an inch.

Biker

Old Fuff
June 18, 2006, 12:22 PM
It is not unusual for the police to collect all of the guns (or at least those they can find) from someone who has been involved in a shooting incident, the argument being that they have to disarm the individual until they determine that the shooting was justified.

Problems can come up if after the shooting is determined to be justified the police refuse to return the arms, requiring the owner to retain a lawyer to get his property back. The gun owner usually wins, but the cost is expensive to say the least.

This sort of thing is most likely to happen in states or cities where the authorities have an anti-gun attitude. As Preacherman pointed out, where you live can make a big difference.

pcf
June 18, 2006, 12:47 PM
The number one factor on whether you will be sued is if money can be won. If you are judgment proof (you have nothing that can be awarded in a judgment), sleep easy. If you're on the verge of bankruptcy from your criminal defense, you probably won't get sued. There's nothing a lawyer can win.

Bernie Goetz is a good example of why you should find out what you're worth before you worry about getting sued.

Insurance can be like bait for a lawsuit. Make sure you have enough to cover you in the areas that you need coverage, but don't carry too much, and don't get coverage in areas you don't need it for.

Talk to a lawyer, find out if you need to worry about getting sued, and what you stand to lose and then talk to your insurance agent about coverage (if you need it). Make sure you have enough coverage that an insurance company will take a vested interest in your defense ($250K in coverage is really low if you have $1 million in assets).

I'll bet you dollars to inflated pesos that most of the people on this board that worry about getting sued after acting in self defense (1) don't carry enough automotive liability insurance and (2) after criminal proceedings would be essentially judgment proof. Talk to your lawyer, then talk to your insurance agent.

Hkmp5sd
June 18, 2006, 02:48 PM
Bernie Goetz is a good example of why you should find out what you're worth before you worry about getting sued.


Bernie Goetz is a good example of why you should keep you mouth shut. :)

Standing Wolf
June 18, 2006, 11:06 PM
Shyster lawyers. We're afflicted with a plague of lawyers in this country, far too many of whom are unethical and unprincipled.

I believe the technical term is "assault lawyers."

bouis
June 18, 2006, 11:11 PM
PCF is right on the money, pun intended.

If you have something to take, you will be sued, no matter how clean the shooting was -- unless it's forbidden by state law. Keep this in mind next time you vote!

Bartholomew Roberts
June 18, 2006, 11:46 PM
I think pcf had a pretty good assessment. If you are an off-duty cop or the shooting happened at your place of employment, you will almost certainly be sued because they can sue your employer as well and your employer is an attractive target.

However, let's not underestimate the relatives either. I can point to at least one case where the parents sued all the way to the Court of Appeals against someone who was not an obvious target for money. In that case, it was defeated at summary judgement in both the lower court and court of appeals. This is basically the earliest it could have been stopped in the judicial process. Despite all that, I bet it wasn't cheap to get there for the victim.

I think the wisest course of action is to plan on a civil suit from anyone you shoot, particularly if it happens in the home. If they can convince the insurance company the shooting was unintentional (light trigger?, any training recently?) then they stand a chance of collecting against the homeowner's insurance. In a lot of cases, that will hopefully be unnecessary preparation.

Byron Quick
June 18, 2006, 11:54 PM
There is no law in Georgia forbidding lawsuits over justifiable shootings. I've been watching for such for decades and have seen none.

Bad guys' survivors have a problem finding attorneys to file suit here. You see, Georgia attorneys are well acquainted with Georgian jurors. The attorneys know what will happen if they handle a wrongful death lawsuit over a justifiable shooting. Answer: what's a third of nothing? Georgia lawyers like to get paid.

I've seen one wrongful death lawsuit filed over a shooting. The shooter, a friend of mine, was acquitted of murder. He would probably have been convicted of voluntary manslaughter if the prosecutor hadn't been determined to go for the gold. The dead guy's family (I knew him well also and totally believe the shooter's account) had money to pay a lawyer.

So a wrongful death lawsuit was filed, tried, and won by the dead man's family. My friend, who was 24 at the time, filed bankruptcy. End result: family was out their attorney's hefty fee and collected not one thin dime from Carey.

There are states where you aren't protected by specific law but are protected by your sovereign peers sitting on a jury. To the point that lawyers won't even go to the trouble of filing unless they're paid in full in advance.

dogngun
June 19, 2006, 07:11 AM
This was many years ago, in Allentown, PA. An off duty Allentown police officer, drunk, shot and killed his prostitute girlfriend on her front lawn in front of her young daughter. He got aquitted, filed suit and got his gun back.
He appeared on national TV, stated that he used the booze as "medication" for "nervous problems".
He is now retired, on a pension.

It all depends who you are and who you know.

Mark

CAS700850
June 19, 2006, 11:11 AM
There's no way of knowing for sure, outside of anecdotal reporting, how many of these suits occur and what the outcome is, short of doing thousands of hours worth of research in every court in America. The legal databses report only a fraction of the cases that actually proceed through the court systems. Any case that is settled will not be reported. Many that are dismissed will never be reported (unless the decision is appealed). And, in many cases where there is a settlement, the parties agree to a non-dsiclosure term, which prohibts the parties from disclosing the terms of the settlement. My wife works for a major insurance company, and they often include a non-disclosure term in a settlement, to avoid people suing more often seeking a same or similar settlement.

Another concern, as pointed out by Biker above, is that too often, the suits are looking for a settlement, not a judgement. In other words, the plaintiff's lawyer doesn't care if their case is rock solid, they file and begin negotiating with your insurance company. This is the kind of work my wife does. the insurance company will first look for a way out, in terms of denying any liability on your part, or finding an exclusion to coverage based upon the contract terms. This can become an actual point of litigation once converage is denied, as plaintiff's counsel may well file an action seeking court intervention to order coverage (to keep the money available). if the insurance is off the table, many suits go away at that point, due to their being no real money left.

I'm not sure about the law in Biker's state, but here in Ohio, and in many states, the insurance company can settle the case wthout any input from you. meaning, even if you are in the right, and the shooting is perfectly justified, the insurance company may settle out to minimize expenses. This is exactly what many plaintiff's lawyers are looking for. Quick in and out, minimal expenses, and walking away with 30%-40% of the settlement. Meanwhile, your insurance rates go up, and you risk having your policy cancelled due to the nature of the claim if you are determined to be to great a risk.

Z_Infidel
June 19, 2006, 12:28 PM
There is no law in Georgia forbidding lawsuits over justifiable shootings. I've been watching for such for decades and have seen none.

Byron, recent legislation in Georgia looks pretty good:

http://www.georgiagun.org/SB396A10.php

Serendipity
June 19, 2006, 12:45 PM
Byron and Preacherman make good points. Whether you'll be treated as a criminal depends largely on where the shooting takes place. If you're in a jurisdiction in MA, NY, KA, etc., etc., you're probably in for a hard time.

If you're in Georgia or some other American state, then you'll probably not suffer too greatly.

Smurfslayer
June 19, 2006, 01:24 PM
Here in VA there is a suit ongoing covered extensively in the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star and Richmond Times Dispatch. It involved a long simmering fued between 2 rural farm owners, a bull and a fence. Ames was one of the principals, the name of the other escapes me currently.

The shooter was on his property, shot the deceased claiming self defense. He was charged with the killing and acquitted as justifiable. The deceased was alleged to have waved a big stick at the shooter and witness accounts weren't consistent. However, the estate has filed suit against the shooter and the spouse has already settled IIRC. Don't discount the suit as "another method of punishment" as it seems to be implemented here. With the money already outlayed in this case, most of us here would probably be bankrupt already...

Wiley
June 19, 2006, 07:20 PM
Byron:

Signed by Governor Purdue on 4-27-2006 : Act # 599: Effective date 7-1-2006:

06 SB396/AP
Senate Bill 396
By: Senators Goggans of the 7th, Johnson of the 1st, Williams of the 19th, Whitehead, Sr. of the 24th, Unterman of the 45th and others
AS PASSED
AN ACT


To amend Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to justification and excuse as a defense to certain crimes, so as to provide that a person who is attacked has no duty to retreat; to provide that such person has a right to meet force with force, including deadly force; to provide for civil immunity; to amend Article 1 of Chapter 11 of Title 51 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions relative to defense to tort actions, so as to provide for civil immunity; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.


BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA:


SECTION 1.
Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to justification and excuse as a defense to certain crimes, is amended by inserting immediately following Code Section 16-3-23 a new Code section to read as follows:
"16-3-23.1.
A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said Code sections, including deadly force."


SECTION 2.
Said article is further amended by striking in its entirety Code Section 16-3-24.2, relating to immunity from prosecution and exception, and inserting in lieu thereof the following:
"16-3-24.2.
A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, 16-3-23, 16-3-23.1, or 16-3-24 shall be immune from criminal prosecution therefor unless in the use of deadly force, such person utilizes a weapon the carrying or possession of which is unlawful by such person under Part 2 or 3 of Article 4 of Chapter 11 of this title."

SECTION 3.
Article 1 of Chapter 11 of Title 51 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions relative to defense to tort actions, is amended by striking in its entirety Code Section 51-11-9, relating to immunity from civil liability for threat or use of force in defense of a habitation, and inserting in lieu thereof the following:
"51-11-9.
A person who is justified in threatening or using force against another under the provisions of Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat from the use of such force and shall not be held liable to the person against whom the use of force was justified or to any person acting as an accomplice or assistant to such person in any civil action brought as a result of the threat or use of such force."


SECTION 4.
All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

Diomed
June 19, 2006, 11:07 PM
Smurfslayer -

Last I heard Ames (the shooter) was in the process of suing the estate of Brooks (dead guy) for everything it had. Ames, who by pretty much all accounts is a complete bastard, wants to take the farm of the man he shot. This has to do with the fence along Ames' property, which under a colonial-era law Brooks was obligated to help pay for, which cost an enormous sum.

Neither man is blameless (Brooks made some unwise statements and actions, Ames did a lot of provoking), but the case is all kinds of messed up.

MillCreek
June 20, 2006, 12:08 AM
CAS above is pretty much spot on, except I bet his wife would agree with me on one additional major point: in most states, there is no homeowners or personal umbrella liability insurance coverage for a self-defense shooting. The short version of why is the definition of an 'intentional act' which in many states has been interpreted by the appellate courts to exclude insurance coverage for a deliberate, as opposed to accidental, shooting.

So in most states, there is no insurance coverage for civil liability from a self-defense shooting. This would only tend to diminish the enthusiasm of a plaintiff personal injury attorney to take the case, since there are no deep insurance pockets.

Smurfslayer
June 20, 2006, 09:04 AM
Last I heard Ames (the shooter) was in the process of suing the estate of Brooks

Yes, but that was apparently a counter suit. And don't forget he already settled out of court with the widow. I think they still have a case or 2 pending at the supreme court of VA, I remember reading a blurb about it in one of the papers.

The point is unless there's a law to prevent this kind of abuse, it's a very real possibility.

buzz_knox
June 20, 2006, 09:22 AM
The risk of a lawsuit by a bad guy is the same as being sued by a driver who was at fault for the accident but is suing everyone involved anyway.

I've defended several of those, so I'd say the risk is high.

Local laws may provide some protection by barring criminals from suing for injuries received during the commission of the crime.

Smurfslayer
June 20, 2006, 09:39 AM
Here's a link to the Ames/Brooks case coverage
http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD/MGArticle/RTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1149188616854

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