The criminal and civil justice systems are separate and serve very different functions. While the criminal justice system seeks enforcement of our laws and ordinances, civil liability exists to allow individuals, families and businesses to be compensated for civil wrongdoings. In addition to serving different purposes, they also hold different proof burdens.
This is why a person can be deemed liable in civil court, even if they’ve been found not guilty in criminal court.
Recently, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that there must be separate determinations for immunity in civil Stand Your Ground self-defense cases and criminal Stand Your Ground self-defense cases. In other words, a finding of immunity in one does not automatically confer to the other. This settled the matter after several Florida appellate courts had reached different conclusions on this issue.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Stand Your Ground in Florida eliminates the common law duty to retreat before using self-defense. A person can be justified in using force (except deadly force) against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes the conduct is necessary to defend himself/ herself/ another against someone’s imminent use of unlawful force. Someone who uses the force as permitted is immune from criminal prosecution – and civil action – for use of that force, F.S. 776.032. However, the legislature didn’t suggest any procedural mechanisms for invoking or determining Stand Your Ground immunity, which means they are being developed by the judiciary.
A determination of Stand Your Ground Immunity in civil cases is decided at a pretrial hearing, where a defendant must prove it by a preponderance of the evidence.
In this case, plaintiff in the civil case physically attacked defendant without provocation at a bar. This was not disputed. In reaction to this aggression, defendant struck plaintiff in the eye with a cocktail glass. This resulted in plaintiff’s permanent loss of sight in one eye.
The state filed a felony battery charge against defendant, which he moved to dismiss under the Stand Your Ground Law. The circuit court agreed with him, giving immunity from prosecution. The immunity finding in that case is final.
Thereafter, defendant filed a civil lawsuit for personal injury against defendant, alleging defendant had committed battery and negligence and was liable to cover the cost of his damages.
Defendant asserted as an affirmative defense the immunity found by the circuit court in the criminal case under Stand Your Ground, and moved for summary judgment. The court denied this summary judgment motion and ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine defendant’s immunity.
Before this hearing was held, defendant filed a petition for writ of prohibition with the 2nd District Court of Appeals, which granted the petition, interpreting the law to mean there could be a single Stand Your Ground immunity finding that could be applied to both civil and criminal actions. This was opposite to what the 3rd DCA had ruled in another similar case.
The Florida Supreme Court, however, reversed, siding with the 3rd DCA that a separate evidentiary hearing is necessary in civil and criminal cases to make a determination.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Kumar v. Patel, Sept. 28, 2017, Florida Supreme Court
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Holding Bars Liable for Contractors’ Drunk Driving, Sept. 28, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog