A personal injury lawsuit allows a plaintiff to sue for intentional harm, defamation, and negligence. For intentional harm claims involving battery or assault, a defendant can sometimes claim self-defense. In order to claim self-defense, it is generally required that the other party attack first, and then the victim respond with some form of self-defense, often through physical force.

Self-defense is the legal use of physical force to protect oneself from bodily harm. It is a defense that requires a defendant to use a reasonable amount of physical force against a plaintiff. In order for the victim to not be held liable themselves for the use of force, the amount of force must be equal to the amount of force the plaintiff used. Self-defense is often used in situations involving:

  • Assault and battery;
  • Theft claims;
  • Breaking and entering claims;
  • Robbery and burglary cases; and
  • Sexual assault incidents

What is Deadly Force and When Can it Be Used?

Deadly force is any physical force capable of causing someone serious bodily harm or death. Typically, deadly force can be used to defend oneself from serious bodily injury or death. It can also be used as a defense:

  • To protect a third party from serious bodily harm or death;
  • Preventing a crime from occurring; and
  • By law enforcement.

Courts often determine if deadly force was justified by:

  • Looking at the amount force used;
  • Determining if the amount of force reasonable;
  • Determining whether the plaintiff used deadly force first;
  • Comparing the plaintiff’s height, age, and weight to the defendant’s weight, height, and age;
  • Analyzing whether a deadly weapon was used by the plaintiff or defendant; and
  • Analyzing whether either party had training in combat or martial arts.

The amount of deadly force used must match the plaintiff’s use of deadly force. In other words, a defendant generally only has the right to use deadly force when the plaintiff uses it against them first. Generally speaking, deadly force may involve the use of a weapon, such as:

  • A gun;
  • Knives;
  • Blunt striking instruments; and/or
  • Various other implements.

However, deadly force can often be applied even without the use of weapons. This is especially true if the person has specific training in martial arts, military applications, or other similar methods.

For instance, a person who has a black belt in martial arts may be able to apply deadly force under certain circumstances. Courts will consider such information when reviewing self-defense cases.

Can I Use Deadly Force to Defend My Property?

Generally, defendant can only use deadly force when protecting their home against an intruder who is threatening to use deadly force. An example of this is when the plaintiff breaks into the defendant's home and points a gun at defendant, putting the defendant’s life in immediate danger. 

In this instance, a defendant can use deadly force because the plaintiff is threatening to use a gun to harm them. However, if the person was unarmed during the break in and is not threatening any violence, the homeowner might not be allowed to use deadly force.

Several states have “Stand Your Ground” Laws, which give individuals the right to protect themselves with deadly force without any obligation to retreat. However, each state has a variation, and many states differentiate stand your ground with the “Castle Doctrine”, which gives individuals a right to protect themselves when in their home or vehicle.

Comparatively, a stand your ground law allows individuals to defend themselves anywhere, in a public place or in another person’s private residence.

How is the Use of Deadly Force during Self-Defense Proven?

The use of deadly force during self-defense always creates difficult situations for the courts to analyze. In order to prove whether the amount of force used during self-defense was justified, courts may look to various forms of evidence. This can include forms of proof such as:

  • Witness and bystander testimony and statements;
  • Written statements by either party;
  • Video footage and photos of the incident;
  • Official police reports;
  • Testimony from an expert witness (such as a doctor or firearms specialist); and/or
  • Medical records and documents (can be used to show how serious/damaging the attack was).

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Deadly Force Defense?

You may need to talk to a local personal injury lawyer about the deadly force defense in your personal injury case. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice on how to proceed, and can explain your rights moving forward.