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Let's say you are eating dinner with your family at a restaurant in Florida that has some outside seating. In the middle of your meal, a young man proceeds to try to sell you his mix tape. You politely decline, and go back to your meal. He is very persistent and borderline aggressive with his sales pitch. At which point you are slightly less polite and tell him to buzz off. He takes offense to the manner in which you responded and proceeds to take off his shirt and takes a very threatening stance. You believe that the safety of your family may be in danger.

As you get up from your seat, the young man takes a swing at you which you are able to dodge. And you proceed to give him a good one-two combination which subsequently knocks him down. He is clearly dazed. But gets up and wants to continue the fight. You aggressively pick him up, slam him to the ground, give him 2 good punches to the face, and he's knocked out. At which point you back off as you feel you have sufficiently neutralized the threat to your family.

Police arrive and start to question witnesses, request a copy of the security cam footage and question you. All of which match up showing that the confrontation was started by the young man walking up to you having dinner.

  • Did I have a legal right to defend myself and family?

  • Will I face criminal charges for injuring the young man?

  • If the individual sustains injuries, can I be liable for his medical expenses?

  • If during the fight, damage occurred to the restaurant or other private/public property. Could I be liable for those expenses?

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    This is an awfully specific hypothetical. The law is only going to give general criteria for self-defense (e.g. "imminent threat", "reasonable and necessary force", etc; I don't know the phrasing for Florida) and it would be up to a jury to determine whether those criteria are met. We can try to tell you what those criteria are, as stated in the law, but I don't see how we can answer as to how this specific case would be resolved. – Nate Eldredge Nov 17 '17 at 20:19
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  1. In Florida, as in most common-law jurisdictions, you may legally use force to defend yourself and others from someone else's imminent physical assault. Florida makes it explicit.

    776.012 Use or threatened use of force in defense of person.
    (1) A person is justified in using or threatening to use force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. A person who uses or threatens to use force in accordance with this subsection does not have a duty to retreat before using or threatening to use such force.

    The force you're defending against must be imminent, though. You can't just believe you may be in danger; you have to believe you are. Further, you must reasonably believe not only that use of force is necessary to defend against that danger, but also that you have to use that much force.

    Once you believe any of those statements to be false, or any of those beliefs become unreasonable, you're no longer protected by 776.012. If you continue to use force past that point, you're no longer defending; you're attacking.

  2. Yes, there may be criminal charges. I mean, use of force is illegal by default, and justified or not, you did just knock a guy out. The government has a duty to ensure that your use of force was lawful, and if it finds reason to believe otherwise, you may be charged.

  3. Yes, you might be held liable for the attacker's medical expenses. Mix Tape Guy is likely to try to sue in any case. He has some small chance of winning, partly because civil and criminal trials present different burdens of proof. If you weren't charged, or were found not guilty (and didn't get off on a technicality), then that chance remains pretty small. But if you are tried and found guilty of assault, you're much more likely to lose.

  4. Yes, you might be held liable for damage to the restaurant etc. Same story as with Mix Tape Guy. The outcome will depend heavily on the outcome of the criminal trial. If you weren't charged, or you were found not guilty, then you're less likely to have to pay to fix the restaurant. If you're tried and found guilty, you'll almost certainly have to chip in.

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    If you are found guilty, then Mix Tape is almost guaranteed a win when he sues. If you are found not-guilty, he might actually win - because "guilty" means you attacked "beyond reasonable doubt", whereas to win a civil case he only has to show you attacked "on the balance of probabilities". (Terms are from England and Wales, but Florida will be similar). – Martin Bonner Nov 18 '17 at 14:25
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    Worth noting: if done in accordance w/the law (particularly the one cited above but also common law), the use of force in self-defense is by definition not illegal. It won't go to court "if there's any question about it," but rather if a prosecutor thinks there's enough evidence to successfully prosecute the case. In court, the likely turning point of any case arising from these actions will be whether a reasonable person would have believed the threat was neutralized before the slam to the ground and the two final punches. In self-defense, the force used must be proportionate to that feared. – A.fm. Nov 19 '17 at 19:00
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Assuming that you are legally justified and are not charged with a crime the next two questions are harder:

If the individual sustains injuries, can I be liable for his medical expenses?

If your self-defense was justifiable (and the standard of justification is substantially similar under civil and criminal law) then no, you would not be liable for his medical expenses.

If during the fight, damage occurred to the restaurant or other private/public property. Could I be liable for those expenses?

This is a harder question, but I think that there is a very good argument that MixTape Guy rather than you should bear full responsibility for those expenses if your self-defense was justified and not excessive. The argument would be that MixTape Guy was an intervening cause of the harm and that you were neither negligent nor engaged in an unjustified assault. This doesn't mean, of course, that the venue has to let you continue to be a patron there.

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Florida has a Stand Your Ground Law, so this shouldn't be an issue. Some common law jurisdictions require you to make an attempt to leave the situation or some how show you could not leave the situation, which could reasonably be asserted by your standing up, you are attempting to leave the situation. Mix Tape could attempt to suggest that he was defending himself against the unknown outcome after you stood up, but here he is seen approaching you, refusing to terminate an unwanted conversation, and taking off his shirt in an attempt to intimidate you.

Damages will likely be assessed to whoever the police find at fault. Doesn't mean you can't be sued, but Florida lives and dies by tourism, so suing a paying customer who was accosted by a local is going to get some bad press for that restaurant. It could also happen Mix Tape is not unknown to the establishment and you are not the first customer of theirs he's tried it on. Depending on how big of a tourist area you are, the manager on duty may offer you something for the troubles (obviously the restaurant is not at fault for any of this, but those yelp reviews sting if you're hoping to attract beach going vacationers.). Some places, such as theme parks devoted to a rodent of quite large proportions, are known to go over the top to compensate for bad experiences related to their property. Personal experience has been that most Floridians and local law enforcement have a positive reception towards self-defense (my boss was once getting a gun permit for home defense and was told by the cop handling his paper work "Remember, if you shoot an intruder, shoot to kill... it's less paperwork for us").

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