Self-Defense Determinations in Civil Court
Florida’s “stand your ground” law states that residents do not have the duty to retreat before using force against an attacker. This defense is often raised in criminal cases by those who use self defense to protect themselves from a violent attack. However, the Florida Supreme Court recently issued an opinion holding that while people can raise this defense in civil cases as well as criminal trials, the determination of immunity from criminal prosecution does not necessarily transfer over to its civil counterpart. This ruling could have important implications for those who are involved in both criminal and civil trials that stem from the same incident, so if you have questions about how this ruling affects your own case, please contact a member of our personal injury legal team today for a free consultation.
The Stand Your Ground Law
Under state law, Florida residents are explicitly permitted to use force against another person if they reasonably believe that such conduct is necessary to defend themselves or others against someone else’s imminent unlawful force. This law, while most often associated with home defense, also applies to other situations where victims must choose between fleeing and defending themselves. It has long been established that defendants are permitted to raise this defense in both criminal and civil cases. However, a recent state Supreme Court opinion clarified that just because a person was granted immunity based on this self-defense argument in a criminal case, does not mean that immunity will automatically be transferred to a civil case regarding the same incident. This means that someone could be found immune from prosecution in a criminal trial, but still be held liable in a civil trial.
The Florida Supreme Court’s Holding
The case at hand involved an altercation that took place between two people in a Tampa nightclub in 2008. According to the parties involved, the defendant struck the plaintiff with a cocktail glass after being suddenly and unexplainably attacked by the plaintiff. When criminal charges were later filed, the defendant was able to shield himself from conviction by arguing self-defense. After this holding, the plaintiff filed a civil lawsuit against the defendant for damages. Although the defendant attempted to have the case dismissed based on the criminal finding of self-defense, the Supreme Court definitively stated that when a criminal immunity determination is made prior to the filing of a civil suit, that decision is not considered binding on plaintiffs who weren’t a party to the prior criminal proceeding itself.
The Court also pointed to a recent amendment to the law that establishes different burdens of proof for civil and criminal immunity. According to the Court, this amendment implies an understanding that separate determinations of immunity are appropriate in these types of cases.
Call Our Legal Team Today
If you live in Florida and have questions about how a prior criminal case will affect your personal injury lawsuit, please call Boone & Davis at 954-566-9919 to schedule a free case evaluation with a dedicated Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney.