Virginia: Can I Be Sued for Using My Gun?

One evening, you decide to stop for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store on the way home from work. The area isn’t the best, but it’s on the way home and the clerks are friendly. After getting out of your truck, you make your way to the front door when you notice a suspicious-looking character leaning against the wall. Being a CHP holder, you always carry a concealed handgun when out in public. You make a mental note of the situation. You are almost at the front door when the man walks up to you and pulls out a knife, demanding your money or your life. You instinctively respond, pulling your handgun and firing two shots at the man and wounding him. Eventually the police come, the robber is arrested, and you are later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. Yet, two months later, you are served with a civil complaint – you are being sued! Can you be held liable for the robber’s injuries, even though you were legally justified in firing at the assailant?

Civil Liability Immunity in Virginia
Some states have civil liability immunity statutes, which provide that a person who is justified in using force or deadly force against a robber (or other unlawful assailant) is immune from all civil liability. What does this mean? Basically, if a court determines that a person is immune from civil liability, they will not be forced to pay for the injuries of a robber or assailant they shot in justified self-defense. Unfortunately for Virginia gun owners, there is no statutory civil liability immunity for self-defense in Virginia.

What Does This Mean for Me?
In states that have them, a civil liability immunity statute will prevent the bad guy from succeeding in a lawsuit where you were found to have used justifiable force or deadly force, meaning that you would not be forced to pay for any injuries and/or death that resulted from firing your gun, for example. However, civil liability immunity statutes for self-defense do not shield you from being sued by a bad guy. In fact, anyone can sue another person for almost anything (though consequences can exist for filing a frivolous lawsuit).

It follows that in Virginia, even if you are found to be completely legally justified in shooting an assailant under the necessary conditions, and you were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, you may still be sued by a bad guy you injured in self-defense. Even more, it is possible that a court may require you to pay a bad guy and/or his family for any injuries or death that you caused by defending yourself! So, a person who has to use deadly force to protect his or her life may be faced with the clearly unjust situation of having to pay thousands of dollars for the assailant’s medical bills that they brought on themselves by threatening your life!

You might be thinking to yourself “What kind of sense does that make?” and you are not the only one! Previous attempts have been made to introduce civil liability immunity for self-defense into the Virginia Code. Two such attempts took place recently in 2010 and 2012. Unfortunately, however, no legislation has successfully made it all the way through the process to become law.

As a side note, the bad guy might not be the only person injured as a result of shooting a firearm in self-defense. Especially in such a high-stress situation, there is the potential for stray bullets to strike someone who is not involved in the altercation. In this case, you may also be liable for injuries or death they suffer.

How Can I Protect Myself?
With or without a civil liability immunity statute, it is wise to be very careful when shooting your firearm in self-defense. Either way, you run the risk of being sued. Every bullet you fire carries along with it potentially severe consequences. Lawsuits can cost many thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, even if you are eventually found not liable, and not showing up to court is not an option. In Virginia, which does not have a civil liability immunity statute, you may end up having to pay for many different costs, including attorney’s fees, court costs, and other expenses.

That’s why it is both critically important to practice prevention and to be prepared for such an event. Every U.S. Law Shield member in Virginia is covered not only for all criminal matters like police investigations, grand jury proceedings and trials, but also civil trials and retrials. If you are ever forced to use your firearm in self-defense, all attorney’s fees will be covered. If you have any questions about civil liability immunity in Virginia, or what costs your membership covers, don’t hesitate to give us a call.