A bill protecting individuals who defend themselves against crimes from lawsuits is under consideration in the Indiana legislature.
Indiana H.B. 1284, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour), would provide immunity from civil lawsuits by the perpetrators of violent crimes seeking money from people who defended themselves or those who came to their aid. To discourage perpetrators from filing frivolous lawsuits, the legislation would award attorney’s fees to a civil defendant when the justified use of force is successfully raised by the defendant being sued.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives on February 11 and was referred to the Senate.
Lucas says he introduced the bill in light of the case of Kystie Phillips, who shot 25-year-old Justin Holland when he attacked a state conservation officer in front of her home in 2017. Prosecutors declined to press charges against Phillips. Holland’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
“Kystie Phillips saw the conservation officer getting attacked, and shot the attacker with her legally owned gun to end the struggle,” said Lucas. “In a sense, people like Phillips are victimized twice.
“First they’re traumatized by a violent crime, and then they are slapped with a frivolous lawsuit by attorneys representing the criminal,” Lucas said. “Big law firms can drag these suits out forever, and the financial and emotional cost to the victim is very high.”
H.B. 1284 only protects crime victims who use justified force, Lucas says. “If an investigation finds the person’s use of self-defense was not justified, of course they wouldn’t get immunity,” said Lucas.
Attackers ‘Weaponize the Courts’
Although tcriminals can file civil lawsuits against their victims who act to defend themselves, the law recognizes that such lawsuits are a form of harassment , says Joseph Greenlee, a fellow in constitutional studies and firearms policy at the Millennial Policy Center.
“Attackers can initiate civil actions against their victims for injuries they sustained when the victim resorted to self-defense,” said Greenlee.
“Put differently, victims, after fending off unprovoked and deadly violence, would sometimes then face civil liability and costly legal fees for defending their lives,” said Greenlee. “It is common sense that a violent attacker should not be able to weaponize the courts to continue abusing their victims.”
‘Castle Doctrine’ Success
An immunity law in Pennsylvania that expanded the ‘castle doctrine’—the right to defend one’s home—has worked, says Greenlee.
“Pennsylvania passed a similar law in 2011 when it expanded its castle doctrine,” said Greenlee. “Since then, it does not appear that a single one of these frivolous lawsuits has been brought by an attacker against his victim in that state.”
“This is strong support for the argument that such laws deter abusive civil actions,” said Greenlee.
‘Prohibit and Punish It’
The victim of a violent crime can incur big legal bills defending against this type of lawsuit, thus compounding the injury, says Greenlee.
“In addition to subjecting their victims to deadly attacks, the perpetrators then inflict emotional distress and potentially bankrupt their victims by forcing them to defend against civil lawsuits,” said Greenlee.
“This constitutes an egregious abuse of the justice system, and legislatures are correct to prohibit and punish it,” Greenlee said.
Ashley Herzog ([email protected]) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.
State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour):