“Stand Your Ground” and Personal Injury Cases

In a recent case, a roofing company defendant and Jose Alvarez asked the appellate court to review an order denying a motion to dismiss a civil action brought under the provisions of the Florida Stand Your Ground Law. The trial court denied the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing to decide whether Alvarez was right to employ force against the plaintiff under Stand Your Ground.

The case arose when Alvarez hit the plaintiff, a former employee of the roofing company, with a baseball bat at the roofing company. Alvarez claimed he was immune from criminal prosecution because he had used justifiable force against a threat that the plaintiff was about to use unlawful force. He filed a motion to dismiss under Stand Your Ground. The criminal court granted the motion and dismissed the charges.

The plaintiff sued Alvarez for battery, assault, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress while the criminal case was pending. He also sued his employer, claiming vicarious liability for negligence and for negligently retaining a dangerous employee. He also asked for punitive damages.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on grounds of immunity. They claimed the criminal court had dismissed charges against Alvarez on the same grounds applicable to the civil case. The court denied the motion.

The petitioners did not seek appellate review at that time. Instead, Alvarez filed an answer to the complaint and asserted his immunity as an affirmative defense. So did the roofing company, which also asserted collateral estoppel and res judicata. The defendants again filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied.

The appellate court agreed to review the denials. The court found that res judicata and collateral estoppel didn’t apply. However, they sent the case back for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether Alvarez was entitled to immunity.

The court explained that section 776.012 (Stand Your Ground) allowed someone to use justifiable force when he reasonably believed it was necessary to defend himself against another person’s imminent use of unlawful force. That person receives both criminal and civil immunity for using force. The defendants contended that once the criminal court made the legal determination, this decision also bound the civil court under either res judicata or collateral estoppel.

The appellate court explained that res judicata applies to a second case for the same acts when (1) the same thing is being sued for, (2) the same cause of action is asserted, (3) the same people and parties are involved, and (4) a claim is made for or against the same parties. Collateral preclusion, on the other hand, applies when (1) the same issues were put forth in a prior proceeding, (2) there was a full and fair chance for the parties to litigate the issues in that proceeding, (3) the issues in the prior litigation were critical and necessary to making a prior determination, (4) the parties in the two proceedings were identical, and (5) the issues were actually litigated in the prior proceeding.

The appellate court explained that the parties were not identical in the criminal and civil case. The State of Florida was the party opposite the defendant in the criminal case, whereas the plaintiff was the opposing party in the civil case. Furthermore, Stand Your Ground was an immunity provision, not an affirmative defense, which required a trial court to decide fact issues rather than pass them to a jury. The appellate court sent the case back for an evidentiary hearing on the fact issues.

If you have been hurt due to another person’s or entity’s negligence or intentionally wrongful conduct, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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