Will Changes to “Stand Your Ground” Affect Personal Injury in Florida?

Florida’s “Stand your ground” laws gained national attention in connection with the Trayvon Martin shooting. This law permits someone who is attacked in a place where he or she has a right to be and who is acting lawfully to “stand his or her ground” and “meet force with force.”

Unlike other states where there is a duty to retreat, in Florida the person may even use deadly force if he believes it necessary to do so in order to prevent injury or death or the commission of a “forcible felony” to anyone.

Recently, a Florida Senate committee approved some changes to the law, which would alter neighborhood watch programs. Of particular note to potential plaintiffs are changes in connection with personal injury lawsuits that could arise in the context of a person utilizing the law to defend him or herself.

The proposal won bipartisan support and is also supported by the NAACP, the Florida Department of law Enforcement, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the state public defenders’ association. However, it is not yet clear whether the House will support these changes and there was debate about who can establish the new guidelines for neighborhood watch programs.

One proposed amendment suggested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would develop a program to address the unlawful use of force, but this proposal was criticized for failing to address the variety of programs in different counties. New language is being created to address the criticism.

One of the most significant changes is an extension of legal liability. Some critics of the law question a provision that would allow bystanders to sue for personal injuries resulting from a person using force under the law. If this proposal becomes law, a person who is acting in self-defense could still be civilly liable for negligently injuring or killing an onlooker.

Somebody who acts negligently in utilizing the “stand your ground” law could be sued by someone he or she harmed. Some senators were worried that this would increase civil litigation. However, the bill passed the committee by a 7-2 vote and this could urge the House to adopt a similarly bipartisan approach to the law.

Differences in the bill are still being worked out. If the bill passes, it should be noted that personal injury lawsuits require proof of these elements: duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.

While a new law might remove one bar to a personal injury lawsuit, a bystander will still have to prove all of these elements to recover for medical expenses, loss of income, disability, or any other aspect of damages he or she may face as a result of a person’s willingness to “meet force with force” rather than retreat. A claimant may still have to defeat various affirmative defenses raised by a defendant who stands his ground.

If you are hurt due to another person’s negligent conduct, a Florida personal injury attorney can examine the facts of your case and determine whether it would be worth bringing a lawsuit to recover damages.
If you are seriously injured, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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