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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Keven Moore on Insurance: Buying a gun comes with much responsibility – and liability

A few weeks ago, I made the conscious decision to secure a new personal self-defensive weapon that will soon be carried in certain public settings, once I am able to secure my carry-and-conceal license within the next few weeks.

This decision wasn’t an easy one to make I must say, and it came with much internal debate. My decision was made this past Thanksgiving day on a day to be thankful, as my family I made our traditional trip to the movie theatre after eating turkey and watching football.

(Photo from Keven Moore)

As I sat there in the company of my wife and kids, my step-brother and his wife and even my daughter’s boyfriend Trevor Dilger, a Kentucky National Guard reservist, it dawned on me that this was the first time that I had been in a movie theatre since the Aurora, Colo., movie theatre shooting. Realizing even in the presence of one of America’s finest, we were all still defenseless and I had no means to defend my family from a gun-toting lunatic copycat. It was then and there that I realized it was time to secure my carry and conceal license.

Call it paranoia if you want, but I call it taking matters in to your own hands instead of waiting defenseless for the six or seven minutes it takes the average police officer to arrive. After making this purchase, I immediately said a little prayer, asking that I never be put in a position to have to draw it, let alone use in the future. As owning and carrying a firearm comes with much responsibility and much liability, that should never be taken lightly.

A firearm is a great equalizer. As one who enjoys using sports metaphors, I compare it to being on a team full of skinny pimple-faced baseball players facing a team with a roster full of juiced up Barry Bondses. But if one of those skinny kids has an untouchable flame-throwing arm, the skinny pimpled face kid usually always walks away the winner. So, too, can it be for a responsible, gun-carrying adult; a gun is an instant checkmate against the odds.

Still, purchasing a firearm comes with an enormous liability. Just as in baseball, there are written and unwritten rules that should be followed.

With so many new firearms being purchased these past three months, there are a lot of people who have increased their personal liability risk exposure, and sometimes the tie doesn’ t always go to the runner in that game. Most states, including Kentucky, require concealed-carry applicants to certify their proficiency with a firearm, which will reduce some of that liability Many states combine classroom and live-fire instruction and many will recognize prior military or police service as meeting training requirements.

It’s important to note that even when self-defense is justified, there can still be civil or criminal liabilities related to self-defense when a concealed-carry permit holder brandishes or fires his/her weapon. For example, if innocent bystanders are hurt or killed, there could be both civil and criminal liabilities that ensue afterwards, even if the use of deadly force was completely justified. Regardless of your justification, when you stand before a judge, you are still responsible for the lead that you chose to sling.

Some states technically allow an assailant who is shot by a gun owner to bring civil action. In some states, liability is present even when a resident brandishes the weapon, threatens use, aggravates a volatile situation or carries while intoxicated. So if you bring out the big stick, remember that simply pointing a firearm at any person constitutes felony assault with a deadly weapon unless circumstances validate a demonstration of force.

A majority of states who allow concealed-carry, however, forbid suits being brought in such cases, either by barring lawsuits for damages resulting from a criminal act on the part of the plaintiff or by granting the gun owner immunity from such a civil suit if it is found that he or she was justified in shooting.

“Castle Doctrine” laws allow people who own firearms and/or carry them concealed to use them without first attempting to retreat. This doctrine naturally applies to situations within the confines of your own home. Nonetheless, many states have adopted escalation of force laws along with provisions for concealed-carry. Therefore, just like the Babe calling his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series against the Cubs, you must first verbally warn a trespasser or lay hands on a trespasser before a shooting is justified, unless the trespasser is armed or assumed to be armed.

This escalation of force does not apply if the shooter reasonably believes a violent felony has been or is about to be committed on the property by the trespasser. Additionally, some states have a duty to retreat provision, which is equivalent to moving to the bleachers before feeling the need to swing for the fence. In essence it requires a permit holder, especially in public places, to vacate himself from a potentially dangerous situation before resorting to deadly force. The duty to retreat does not restrictively apply in a person’s home or business, though escalation of force may be required.

However in all states except for Texas, lethal force is not justifiable solely for the purpose of defending property. In those 49 states, lethal force is only authorized when serious harm is presumed to be imminent.

Even given these relaxed restrictions on use of force, using a handgun must still be a last resort; meaning the user must reasonably believe that nothing short of deadly force will protect the life or property at stake in a situation. Additionally, civil liabilities for errors that cause harm to others still exist, although civil immunity is provided in the Castle Doctrine laws of some states (e.g., Texas).

So what if you are involved in a self-defense shooting the question still remains – how do you protect yourself and family from such liability, avoiding a costly lawsuit or criminal prosecution?

You should first start by first calling the personal lines insurance agent who carries your current homeowners or renters insurance to see if your current homeowners policy or personal liability policy offers you protection. Be sure to read your coverages and ask questions if you need explanation.

Many homeowners policies fall short of adequately protecting gun owners from liability claims, so you should consider supplementing it with personal liability excess polices. The National Rifle Association also offers a fairly reasonable self-defensive insurance policy as well. The coverage is a rider to their excess personal liability coverage, and provides civil defense and liability and criminal defense reimbursement if you are involved in an act of self-defense.

It provides coverage up to the limits selected of either $100,000 or $250,000 for criminal and civil defense costs. Cost of civil suit defense is provided in addition to the limit of liability for bodily injury and property damage as well. Criminal Defense Reimbursement is also provided for alleged criminal actions involving self-defense when you are acquitted of such criminal charges or the charges are dropped.

The NRA Endorsed Excess Personal Liability protects against liability suits up to $250,000 for any injuries you unintentionally cause while hunting or trapping on public or private land. It also protects you while shooting in competitions or at private shooting ranges. It provides coverage for bodily injury or property damage caused by the use of a firearm, airgun, bow and arrow, or trapping equipment when you are legally obligated for damages. It even pays most defense costs in addition to liability limits when the lawsuit is false.

In summary, if you choose to step up to the plate as a carry-conceal permit holder, it’s important to know what assumable risks that you are exposing yourself to, so be sure to pick up the phone to call your independent insurance agent to find the best coverages to fit your needs.

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.



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