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 you way to the front door when you notice a suspicious-looking character leaning against the wall. Being a CCW permit holder, you always carry a concealed handgun when out in public. You make a mental note and 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, 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?
Missouri’s Civil Liability Immunity Statute
Fortunately for Missouri gun owners, the Missouri Revised Statutes contain a powerful statute that protects anyone who uses justifiable force or deadly force in self-defense from civil liability (and criminal prosecution). Mo. Rev. Stat. § 563.074 provides that a person who uses force under section 563.031 and 563.041, among others, is justified in using that force and that fact is an absolute defense to civil liability.
Section 563.031 covers the use of force or deadly force in defense of oneself or another. Section 563.041 covers the use of force or deadly force in defense of property. Essentially, if you use force or deadly force against another person to protect yourself, another, or property under the statutes, Missouri’s civil liability immunity statute will give you an absolute defense to civil liability.
What Doesn’t Civil Liability Immunity Do?
Despite providing an absolute defense to both criminal prosecution and civil liability, the statute does not act as a shield against being sued. There is nothing stopping a robber or assailant from suing you if you justifiably fire a shot at and injure them. In fact, anyone can sue another person for almost anything (though there are consequences for filing a frivolous lawsuit). However, unlike in some other states, while there is unquestionably some inconvenience involved in being sued (potentially a lot!), in Missouri you need not worry near as much about paying any potential damages to a bad guy. And in fact, you may be able to avoid paying the most substantial costs typically involved in defending yourself in a civil lawsuit.
How Do I Invoke This Protection?
The protection from civil liability afforded by § 563.074 is not automatically effective once you have used force or deadly force in self-defense. In order to invoke the protection under § 563.074 once you are sued, your lawyer will first have to present some evidence that you were justified in using force or deadly force. Once the court determines that you were justified in using the force, your lawyer will then have to raise the defense found in § 563.074. As long as you were justified in using force/deadly force, the court will determine that you are not civilly liable, meaning that you will have no responsibility to pay for any injuries or death that the bad guy suffered as a result of his illegal actions!
Being sued is not a fun experience, and it inevitably involves a lot of inconvenience and trouble. Not only is there a significant time drain, but also the potentially huge cost of hiring a lawyer, paying for the court costs, and other associated expenses. This is where § 563.074 shines – not only does the statute protect a defendant who justifiably uses force or deadly force in self-defense from being liable for a bad guy’s injuries or death, but it also allows the defendant to collect “attorney’s fees, court costs, and all reasonable expenses” they incur in defending themselves in court. This reimbursement provision helps protect a defendant from the potentially devastating financial hit of having to defend a lawsuit, and it may also discourage a bad guy from filing an unjust lawsuit against the very person they sought to harm in the first place! However, collecting from the bad guy is another thing.
The Bottom Line
Missouri’s civil liability immunity statute offers protection for Missouri gun owners who are forced to use their firearm or other weapon in self-defense. Not only does it shield from having to pay unjust damages to a bad guy who they injure or kill while defending themselves, it also provides a means for seeking reimbursement for attorney’s fees and other costs while discouraging unjust lawsuits. Of course, U.S. Law Shield members in Missouri never pay attorney’s fees or travel costs for civil trials or retrials in the state, and, unlike those who don’t have a membership, no costs are required up front to have an attorney represent them in court. If you have any questions about civil liability immunity or anything else, please don’t hesitate to give us a call and one of our independent program attorneys will be happy to talk with you.