The incident occurred in Florida on the interstate. The two men are from different states but with the incident occurring in the sovereign State of Florida, Florida law and jurisdiction applies regardless of the law in the residential states of the two men. Florida, as you may recall has a “stand your ground” law. Alabama also has a similar stand your ground law but we will discuss the Florida law and incident.
Two families driving down a Florida became involved in a road rage incident between the two men that were driving. Both men were husbands and fathers, each having at least one child being a daughter. The two men would run in front of the other’s vehicle slamming on brakes to try and cause an accident. At some point the windows were rolled down while I am sure they exchanged verbal insults and threats and probably obscene gestures.
During this time one father threw a water bottle through the open window at the other driver and his family. Not being exactly sure what was thrown in the other father then picked up his handgun and shot into the vehicle of the man that had thrown the water bottle. The bullet hit the leg of the five-year old daughter of the man that threw the water bottle. The other father, now defending his family picked up his own handgun and shot multiple rounds into the other vehicle striking the fourteen-year old daughter in the back. At least one person called 911 during the incident and law enforcement was able to stop both vehicles without incident. Both daughters survived and both men were arrested. After consideration, the man that was on the receiving end of the thrown water bottle and returned fire striking the fourteen-year old was released under the “stand your ground” statute. So what are the basics of the “stand your ground” statute?
When I came through law school there was only a no duty to retreat from an aggressor under the “castle doctrine” when you were in your home, business or vehicle. Several years that changed. Instead of a duty to retreat when possible from a life-threatening incident, a person is now allowed to “stand your ground” when such an incident occurs provided it is not a threat from legitimate law enforcement, or it is not while you are committing a crime or you are not in a place that you don’t have a right to be in. It was determined that the one that threw the water bottle was the aggressor by throwing a “missile” into the other vehicle causing the other driver to fear great bodily harm. The arresting sheriff was pretty upset about the actions of two grown men (age range from late 30’s to early 40’s) who could have both ended up with dead daughters due to their actions.
The criminal trial will be interesting and I expect a civil trial to follow which will include a counterclaim by the defendant. Both men acted recklessly and both would be liable under various tort theories. Interestingly enough Florida uses a comparative negligence theory. That means under the causation if driver A is found the be eighty percent liable and the other driver (B) is twenty percent liable then driver B is awarded theoretically only 80% of what he asks for should he win the case. Alabama, which follows contributory negligence as only a handful of states do would not award anything under that theory to driver B because he contributed a scintilla or more in the way of negligence in the case. And of course, driver A would also receive nothing.
Alabama had an interesting case in Birmingham where a man was coerced by “friends” to sell marijuana to four others. He went to the place with a marijuana sample and his pistol. He was told he was being robbed by those he met with who took his pistol and drug sample. They forced him back to his apartment to rob him of the marijuana stash and did so. Once the four men left, the man grabbed another gun and went outside to see if they had left. They began shooting at him and he returned fire. The other vehicle eventually stopped and three men ran out because one had been shot dead. The man who killed one of the four men was released under the Alabama “stand your ground” law. Even though it occurred during the commission of a criminal act it was held that he was involved in the act because of coercion and thus entitled to “stand his ground”.
I think retreating when you can is wise to keep from escalating the incident to where a bad injury or death occurs. I had an incident where someone driving a pickup on I-85 harassed me and my family by driving aggressively and not letting us pass could have escalated but the safety of all involved was too important and prudent.
I think the older approach to retreating when possible was wiser. It’s very hard to know how you would react in such a situation but I think swallowing some pride and deescalating an incident when possible is the best course.
This article is informative only and not meant to be all inclusive. Additionally this article does not serve as legal advice to the reader and does not constitute an attorney- client relationship. The reader should seek counsel from their attorney should any questions exist.
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