Law Q: self defence and third parties.

How does self-defence interact with harm to third parties?

Imagine you are defending yourself against an assailant. For the sake of this thread the self-defence aspect is clear-cut, accepted, and uncontested. During the incident a third party is injured or killed or their property damaged or destroyed by your (acknowledged to be necessary) actions. Are you liable? Or is the assailant?

Obviously your jurisdiction may vary!

For instance, someone is attacking me on the street. In self-defense, I clearly throw him through a shop window. Who is responsible to the window owner? Is that the question?

Criminally, I think you are off the hook.

Civilly, you probably are off the hook, and the assailant is liable. Unless you acted negligently or something.

The scenario I imagined was something like this -

I am walking down the street, minding my own business. Calvin Crackhed spots me, thinks I am someone who stiffed him on a drug deal last Thursday, whips out a knife, announces loudly 'I am going to kill you now", and charges towards me from twenty feet away. I am trapped against a wall. I pull out my legally registered pistol with the CCW permit laminated to the butt, and fire three times in rapid succession.

The first shot misses Calvin and hits a nun on her way to the local soup kitchen, killing her instantly. The second hits the driver of a bus, who loses control and smashes into a restaurant, killing a dozen people and starting a fire causing millions of dollars in damages. The third wounds Calvin, who drops his knife and runs away.

IANAL, but AFAICT I am off the hook. Everybody else can sue Calvin if they want to recover damages.

That’s not to say that there aren’t lawyers who might sue me as well as suing Calvin, but if I have any assets that is the only way to recover anything.


The word “negligently” is key - always a question for a trier of fact (judge or jury).

Could be a ton of factors playing into whether or not you were negligent in the manner that you used your licensed piece. A license to carry and a right to defend oneself does not insulate you from all liability.

Does anyone know whether insurers ask about whether one has concealed carry when quoting rates?

For the example in Post #2 I agree with Shodan - criminally fine, in terms of civil action it could be a toss up depending on your location.

In the example Shodan asks about, you are at way more risk both ways. Many jurisdictions have this small clause that says you may use deadly force to save your own life “as long as it does not greatly endanger others”. Or more usually three pages of legal-eze text saying about the same thing. Shooting with a crowd behind the bad guy while he is still some distance away, shooting through a crowd, over-gunning and shooting through said bad guy, throwing wild shots and things like that can all count against you when the DA reviews the incident. One of the reasons a lot of homeowners have moved away from buckshot and more to birdshot for home defense; less chance of the carnage going outside your home and injuring bystanders in a inner-city environment. The charge is going to be more manslaughter or reckless endangerment but no matter how great your need or clear your intentions you could - just could - be facing trial and jail time. But like the old saying goes - tried by 12 beats being carried by 6.

In much of the US, no matter what, no matter how clear a case of self defense it was, no matter if you use your bare hands or a weapon, count on being investigated - possibly arrested and possibly tried - if anyone (including your attacker) is harmed or killed. Let the harm or death be to a third party and you can lay money on it. Unless you are in Texas or big parts of Florida.