The right to carry guns and bear arms, and the extent to which these rights should be restricted, is a subject of great debate. Beyond the arguments over what is and what is not constitutional, are concerns over the consequences of shootings when it comes to civil liability. Proposed changes to Florida’s gun laws could change the landscape of liability analysis when people are injured as a result of gun violence in public places.
Proposals Being Considered by Legislature
The Florida legislature is considering a number of proposals that would ban the ability of businesses to declare themselves “gun free zones.” The legislature may make it illegal or difficult for businesses to prohibit someone who otherwise can legally carry a gun, from taking it into a business.
The proposals are varied and scattered in what they cover. Some propose allowing guns in courthouses, but require that they be held by courthouse officials. Other proposals seek to allow guns in schools, airports, or universities. Some seek to lessen criminal penalties for people who violate open carry laws or concealed weapons laws.
Some proposals are seeking to enforce the right to carry guns by altering civil liability to injury victims. Those proposals seek to impose civil liability on businesses that restrict the carrying of guns, if someone on their property is injured by a gun.
In other words, the logic of the proposal is that if the public were allowed to carry guns, random gun violence would be less likely to occur, or the victim may have had his or her own gun and been able to avoid injury. But by prohibiting the carrying of guns, the business prevents the public from defending itself, and thus, is liable for the injuries when someone breaks an onsite gun prohibition by taking a gun into a business and injuring someone else. The bill makes a business that prohibits guns a custodian of the safety of its patrons.
The bill does allow businesses that want to remain gun free to avoid or mitigate civil liability by hiring guards, or having weapons screenings.
Causation Element Eliminated
What the bill and many like it are seeking to do is to take the causation element out of an injury case dealing with gun violence. In a normal situation, someone who is injured by a gun would have a tough time proving that he or she would not have been injured had he or she been permitted to carry a gun. This would be quite an inference for a jury to make and would require the assumption that the victim would have had the alertness and weapons training to avoid any injury.
More likely, a court would find the injury to be the cause of a random criminal, or else, because of a business’ lax safety procedures.
This bill would alleviate the need to prove these things, making the gun prohibition the cause of the injury. Proposals like it are also being considered not just with businesses, but with gun injuries that happen on private properties that do not allow guns.
Liability Issues are a Concern
Reception to the idea of eliminating gun free zones is mixed. While safety is debated one way or the other, businesses no doubt must have concerns over civil liability. That is because even if the law were changed, and eliminated gun free zones, just because a business could not make its premises gun free, does not mean it would not be liable for injuries that happen on the property.
In fact, knowing that guns can and will be taken onto the property, businesses may face a heightened legal responsibility to safeguard its patrons. That may include hiring additional security guards both inside and outside the property, or checking patrons for permits. Establishments where fights are common, such as clubs, bars, or concert venues may have particularly heightened obligations to hire guards.
That duty may not just include hiring guards, but hiring guards with weapons training. Today, it may be reasonable (and sometimes, safer) for a business to have bouncers or guards who are unarmed. But with the knowledge that lawfully owned guns can not be prohibited, and thus a greater percentage of people on its property will have guns, that business may now have to hire guards that are armed, with the attendant skills training and extra expense.
Patrons injured on business property by gun violence may face additional problems bringing injury lawsuits. Take someone who lawfully owns a gun, but opts not to bring it to an establishment. That person is then injured by someone else with a gun at that establishment. There could be a valid defense to an injury suit against the establishment, that the victim contributed to his own injury, by opting not to bring a gun.
Invariably, there will be accidental injuries where one patron may injure another in the course of self-defense, or perceived self defense, especially in crowded areas. Even if there is no criminal liability for “mistaken self defense,” that does not mean that someone who injures another in error or by accident in the course of self defense,is not liable for negligence, a much lower legal standard than criminal culpability.
Changes in gun laws have ramifications for businesses and citizens that go beyond the constitutional or criminal issues. Changes in gun control laws will have rippling effects that need to be considered when it comes to negligence suits that arise from gun violence.
Injuries that are caused by criminal activities or are intentional may also carry civil liability, allowing a victim to recover compensation for those injuries. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.