Shooting Cases: Obtaining Compensation for Shooting Victims

There are more shooting victims than you’d think, particularly in the Atlanta area.  There are definitely more shooting victims than you’d hope for.  This page offers information about shooting and the law, from our perspective as personal injury lawyers.

The Guns Out There

While it’s hard for most of us to imagine someone shooting us either accidentally or on purpose, shootings occur all too frequently in Georgia. About 1/3 of households in the United States have a gun. Georgia is what is called a “shall issue” state. Law enforcement agencies must issue a concealed gun permit to any person 21 year of age or over who passes a background check. Some states give their officials more discretion in denying gun permits. These states are called “may issue” states. As a practical matter, this means that in Georgia, you really don’t know if the person standing in line next to you at the supermarket has a concealed gun. Requirements for getting a concealed gun permit in Georgia are minimal.

Not only can most gun owners carry a concealed weapon, but they can carry them just about anywhere they want. The Georgia governor signed the Safe Carry Protection Act into law in 2014. Some circles call it the guns everywhere law. Georgians can now carry guns in school zones, government buildings, churches, bars and some sections of airports. In July 2017, Georgia also legalized carrying concealed guns on college campuses.

All this means that it’s not as unlikely as you may think to become a shooting victim in Georgia. Should this happen to you or your family member, of course the first thing you must do is get the best medical care possible. The second thing is to call a good Georgia shooting attorney. Separate from any criminal charges the state may or may not file, you may be able to sue for compensation for your injuries and other losses in a civil action.

How People Become Shooting Victims in Georgia

Violent Crime Shootings

In 2015, Georgia saw 498 deaths due to homicide by firearms. Only four other states suffered more. When we adjust for population, Georgia ranks as the 13th highest in firearms-related deaths in the nation at 4.9 firearms related homicides per 100,000 residents. Washington DC is the highest at 17.7 deaths per 100,000 residents followed by Louisiana at 9.1 deaths per 100,000. Georgia residents have double the chances that New Yorkers do of dying in a shooting.

As for Atlanta, though violent crime decreased significantly from 2000 to 2009, in 2016 Atlanta still ranked number 18 of the U.S. cities with the highest homicide rates. The homicide rate per 100,000 was much higher than the rest of Georgia at 20.2 murders per 100,000 population and 1,119.6 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 population. 94 people died as homicide victims in a population of 464,710.

One of the horrible facts of modern times in America is the rise of mass shootings. From the tragedy of Sandy Hook in December 2012 until November 2017, there were 1,552 mass shootings with at least 1,767 people killed and 6,227 wounded. Numbers may vary according to the definition used of mass shooting, but clearly they have dramatically increased. By one definition, in the first 10 months of 2016, there were 14 mass shootings in Georgia alone.

Stand Your Ground Shootings

Stand your ground is a legal defense where you are permitted to respond with deadly force without first attempting to flee if someone is threatening you with serious injury. The intent is to permit a person to defend themselves without being prosecuted for it. Though Georgia incorporated the stand your ground defense into its legal code in 2006, the defense itself has been used in Georgia courts for over 100 years.  (At Butler Tobin, we handle civil cases, not criminal cases—please do not interpret our website as offering legal advice, particularly on criminal matters like the “stand your ground” law.)

On its face, it seems reasonable that if someone threatens your life, you should be able to defend yourself without running. But the reality is not nearly as black and white as the theory. Some would-be stand your ground shootings may actually be violent crime shootings. There are often no witnesses to a shooting. So if someone is shot and the other person claims the stand your ground defense, the question becomes who was the aggressor? Killers often make self-defense claims in homicide cases, and it is very unusual for crime victims to kill or severely injure attackers.  If you or your family member is a shooting victim, this means that your aggressor may very well claim the stand your ground defense. What may seem to you to be a case of cut and dried liability as you lay wounded in your hospital bed, may be much more complicated than you expect. This is one of many reasons why immediately after seeking medical care, a shooting victim should contact a good Georgia shooting lawyer.

Police Shootings

934 people have been fatally shot by police in the United States from the beginning of the year until the time of this writing. Police sometimes have no choice but to shoot in the line of duty. That’s part of the job description. However, if the officer willfully disregarded the law or was negligent, that officer could be charged with homicide in a criminal action and be held liable for damages in a civil action.

Questionable police shootings have been very much in the news. For example, in a September 2017 incident at Georgia Tech, a police officer shot a 21-year-old engineering student who was behaving erratically. It turns out that the young victim was prone to depression. The victim’s family and many others have questioned why the inexperienced officer involved had never been trained in dealing with people with mental health issues.

Accidental Shootings

Sometimes shootings are accidental. Many of us remember the 2006 quail hunting accident where U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shot Texas attorney Harry Whittington. In a case such as this, the victim can sue the shooter for negligent behavior just as they could for any other injury where the guilty party did not take reasonable care to prevent harm to others.

Getting Just Compensation

If you or a family member are shot by someone, you may be able to be compensated for your injuries or for the wrongful death of a loved one. Of course, you can never really be compensated when a loved one dies, but you should not have to deal with paying medical and funeral costs on top of your grief for a shooting that was not your fault.  If the shooter is convicted in criminal court, it can make it easier to receive compensation for your losses in civil court. However, you can still sue in civil court even if the shooter is not convicted of a crime.

Apartment Complexes, Commercial Buildings and Businesses Have a Duty of Care

If you were shot on the premises of an apartment complex, commercial building or business as a customer, tenant or guest, you may be able to collect compensation from the owner, occupier or management company if you can show that they did not exercise ordinary care in keeping their premises safe under O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1. This duty to keep their premises safe includes providing adequate security. If you are shot because the business owner failed in this duty, you can sue them for negligent security or inadequate security. So if a security gate or a front door lock was broken, thereby enabling criminals to enter and assault you, that is the fault of the owner or management company. If a daycare facility lets strange adults come onto the grounds without questioning them, they are putting children at risk and breaching their duty of care. If hotel staff see someone acting suspiciously, perhaps carrying what appears to be mass assault weapons up to a hotel room that overlooks a place where crowds gather, they have a duty to investigate.

Businesspeople who own and operate apartment complexes should care more about people than their equipment.  But sometimes they don’t, as this cross-examination by Butler Tobin showed.

Business owners should be proactive in protecting those they have invited onto their property and minimize foreseeable risks. For example, they might appoint a safety manager to monitor threats, install bright lights and surveillance cameras, and hire security personnel to patrol the grounds. Apartment building and hotel owners should train their staff to never give out any information about a tenant or guest that would permit someone to stalk and harm them. Business owners should order crime grids or crime maps from their local police agencies.  A crime map informs the business owner where crimes are occurring in the area and what kind of crimes they are. The business owner can then take steps to protect people on their property against these crimes. When a business owner does become aware of a risk or a threat, they must correct it and to warn people if necessary. If business and property owners do not take steps to protect customers, residents and guests, they can be held legally liable for violence that occurs on their properties.

Government Entities May Be Sued

If you are shot by a police officer who was negligent or ignored the law, you may be able to sue not only the police officer, but also the municipality or other Georgia government entity which employed the officer. These cases are difficult—they often involve multiple layers of “immunity”—but in some circumstances, such cases can be successful.

However, there are extra hurdles when suing the government, and if you make a misstep, you can lose your rights to compensation.  For example, if you are suing certain government entities in the state of Georgia, you can’t just proceed directly to court. You must provide an ante litem notice that contains the details of your injury and how the government entity is liable. This is just one of many examples. Suing the government is a minefield, and to succeed, you need an experienced Georgia shooting attorney.

Georgia Shooting Lawyer

At Butler Tobin, we believe you should be compensated for your injuries, and we know how to hold all responsible parties accountable from business owners to the government. If you have been shot, your first course of action after getting medical help should be to consult with a good Georgia personal injury attorney who is experienced with shootings.

If you have questions, we can answer them and recommend the best course of action.  If we can’t handle your case, we can usually recommend someone who can.