Taking self-defense seriously means also taking the legal ramifications seriously as well. Beyond criminal liability, it’s crucial to grasp civil liability—know what it entails, anticipate potential outcomes, and safeguard yourself legally.

Civil liability involves legal responsibility for one’s actions, especially in cases of harm or damage. It extends beyond criminal charges, encompassing the potential for individuals to be held accountable through civil suits, where compensation for damages may be sought. The family of the injured/deceased attacker may bring a civil suit for damages even if the victim is cleared of any and all criminal charges.

Examples of civil cases from successful self-defense situations:

Kyle Rittenhouse Wrongful Death Lawsuit
2021 Tacoma Shooting

What is Civil Liability

There are two types of cases in the American Justice System: Criminal and Civil.

Criminal Cases

Criminal liability refers to the legal responsibility an individual incurs for committing a crime. This means, the individual is held accountable by the state, municipality or federal government, and potential consequences may include fines, probation, or imprisonment. The determination of criminal liability is typically based on a person’s intent, actions, and the violation of established laws.

Civil Cases

Civil liability concerns an individual’s legal accountability for actions causing harm or damage to another, distinct from criminal liability. Unlike criminal cases, which involve state punishment, civil liability focuses on compensation through monetary remedies. It arises from breaches of legal duty in various relationships, leading to personal injury, property disputes, or contract breaches. In addition to compensation for losses, civil cases include the potential for punitive damages, which go beyond compensating the aggrieved party. Punitive damages are specifically intended to punish defendants whose conduct is considered grossly negligent or intentional. Punitive damages are also referred to as exemplary damages as they are intended to set an example to deter others from committing similar acts. Civil liability operates independently of criminal proceedings, allowing for both consequences.

In the American Justice System, anyone can sue anyone about anything at any time. If an attacker is injured or killed during the commission of a crime, the victim may be exonerated from criminal liability, but the family of the attacker may sue the victim for damages.

Standard/Burden of Proof

The standard or burden of proof in civil cases is the level of evidence required for a plaintiff to prevail in their case. In civil litigation, the standard is typically known as the “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the plaintiff must demonstrate that their version of the events is more likely than not to be true, with over 50% certainty. It is a lower threshold compared to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases, which is the highest standard of proof, thus making it easier for plaintiffs to succeed in civil actions.

Civil Liability Risks

Generally, there are two main risks with civil liability after a self-defense situation:

Financial penalties/judgements: If found responsible for damages in a lawsuit stemming from a self-defense incident, you could face significant financial penalties, which can include compensatory damages which can include punitive damages, medical expenses, lost wages, plaintiff legal fees, etc.

Incarceration: Beyond the financial risk, if a self-defense incident is deemed to involve criminal negligence, the defendant may also face incarceration.

Home Defense Best Practices to Minimize Civil Liability Risk

To minimize civil liability risk in home defense, it’s crucial to prioritize legal and proportionate actions. Understanding local laws and using force only when necessary are fundamental. Invest in proper security measures like alarms, outdoor lighting and sturdy locks to deter potential threats. If a situation arises, prioritize de-escalation techniques and consider retreating when possible. Lastly, documenting incidents and seeking legal advice promptly can further mitigate civil liability risks associated with home defense.

Examples of home defense incidents leading to legal consequences:

Man Who Shot Intruder In His Home Sued for Wrongful Death
Burglary Suspect Sues Homeowner for Shooting Back
Indiana Burglar Sues Man Homeowner

Things to Consider

If you have significant assets, you are potentially at greater risk of being sued if involved in a self-defense situation; the more you have, the more there is to gain from a successful lawsuit.

Even if you do not have a lot of assets, a successful lawsuit could result in you having to sell off what assets you do have, like your house, car, retirement accounts, etc. to pay a judgement. Or, it could result in garnished wages, lines on future benefits such as inheritances.

Beyond the risk of losing assets, there is also the cost for legal defense in a civil suit. Depending on how long the suit drags on, it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars if not over a hundred thousand dollars to defend yourself. Often, cases are settled before going to court but there will still be significant legal costs.

The cost of defending yourself in a civil suit will not only be financially costly, but it will take a toll on you personally and your family. It will be incredibly stressful to you, your spouse and even your children. It will likely impact your work, your happiness and potentially even your health.

Mitigating Civil Liability Risks

The importance of ongoing training and education cannot be emphasized enough. Train often and train for different scenarios. Take additional classes and learn something new. Know your local, state and federal laws as they pertain to self-defense. Some states have much more strict laws than others when it comes to self-defense.

Situational awareness is also a key risk mitigator. Constantly be aware of your surroundings and identify potential threats. Make informed decisions to ensure personal safety. Don’t allow yourself to get into situations that may lead to a self-defense scenario.

Research and know de-escalate techniques. Sometimes, the easiest way to de-escalate a situation is to simply walk away. If that is not an option, remain calm and levelheaded and try not to antagonize the opponent. If it is a situation of an agitated person, or persons, try actively listening to their case and be empathetic without patronizing them. Also, be aware of your body language as that may also send bad signals and escalate a situation.

Self-Defense Insurance: What Is It and Why You Need It

Self-defense insurance is specialized coverage that helps individuals manage the legal costs associated with self-defense incidents. It covers expenses like legal representation, court fees, and settlements or judgments that may arise. However, self-defense insurance isn’t really insurance in the traditional sense. It differs in that:

  • It provides legal defense services, not loss reimbursement.
  • Purchasers are members, not insured.
  • There are no premiums but instead membership fees.
  • There is no application process.
  • Psychological support is common with self-defense legal protection.
  • Training is often a benefit of membership.

Having self-defense legal protection is critical as it provides a financial safety net in the event of legal challenges stemming from self-defense incidents. It provides peace of mind that if you are ever in a self-defense situation, you won’t be alone. This protection ensures that individuals are prepared and financially supported in the aftermath of unforeseen and potentially costly situations.

Key features of self-defense liability insurance

  • Legal expense coverage
  • Financial protection
  • Professional legal assistance
  • Tailored coverage options
  • Education and resources
  • Crisis management support

You can learn more here: The Difference Between Self-Defense Insurance and Self-Defense Legal Protection

Second Call Defense

Second Call Defense is a legal protection service provider that offers immediate, comprehensive, nationwide 24-hour support for members who are forced to defend themselves or their family with a legal weapon.

Second Call Membership Benefits and Services Include:

  • Up to $100,000 criminal defense protection
  • Up to $300,000 accidental shooting protection
  • Up to unlimited civil suit defense protection
  • Up to $300,000 civil suit damages protection
  • Member newsletter
  • Self defense news
  • Online lethal force seminar
  • Online training videos
  • Special guides & checklists
  • 24/7 emergency hotline
  • Personal crisis manager
  • Nationwide attorney network access
  • Local attorney referral within 24 hours
  • You choice of defense attorney
  • Emergency contact notification
  • Expert witness coordination
  • Gun retrieval or replacement
  • Up to 40 sessions of psychological support
  • On-site assistance

Here is an example of how Second Call Defense protected a customer and provided valuable service: A Self-Defense Story: Deadly Encounter at the Pizzeria


Engaging in a justifiable self-defense situation may not result in any criminal charges but it may result in a civil suit against you that could result in a substantial financial judgement or even incarceration. Even if you are successful defending your actions in a civil suit, the legal costs could be substantial.

You’ve worked hard to obtain the assets that you have, you don’t want to chance losing them. You have chosen to protect yourself and your loved ones with a firearm, it’s critical to take extreme responsibility for that. Never stop training. Never stop learning about how to mitigate risks and know the local, state and federal laws as they pertain to self-defense.

Even if you train and understand the laws, there are more steps you can take to mitigate your risks. Strongly consider a membership in a self-defense legal protection program. The benefits far outweigh the costs and if ever needed, it will help protect your assets, fund your legal defense and even offer psychological assistance.

Get Protected Today

Choosing the right attorney for self-defense cases is a complex process that requires careful consideration of various factors. From legal expertise to communication skills and trust, your attorney should meet specific criteria to ensure a successful defense. Additionally, CCW Insurance can provide financial and logistical support during your legal battle, giving you peace of mind.

Second Call Defense offers the most comprehensive, immediate up-front self-defense legal protection with nothing out of pocket, nothing to repay ever.

*Second Call Defense is not insurance and does not sell or promote insurance products.  Second Call Defense is a membership organization that provides its members access to the “Second Amendment Support Foundation, Inc.,” which provides the means necessary to protect Second Call Defense members from the legal aftermath of exercising their right to self-defense. For an overview of the differences between Second Call Defense Member Benefits and traditional insurance, click here