A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel caught my eye because it touches on an issue important to Tamarac wrongful death lawyers like me. The Jan. 3 article says the parents of a man killed under Florida’s “stand your ground” law are suing the shooter, even though prosecutors are still considering whether to file criminal charges. The Lake County lawsuit accuses Russell Conrad, 70, of negligence in the death of 32-year-old Steven Hilson Jr. Conrad, a neighbor of Hilson’s parents, shot Hilson after discovering him inside Conrad’s parked truck at 4:30 a.m. Nov. 28.
The “stand your ground” law extends the “castle doctrine” found in many states, which permits homeowners to use deadly force against an intruder. In Florida, this right extends to public places if the shooter is attacked and reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury. Lake County prosecutors are still deciding whether this applies to Hilson’s shooting. Conrad told police he was awakened by the sound of his own truck’s horn. After two warning shots, someone inside the truck got out. Despite warnings from Conrad to stop or he’d shoot, the person walked toward Conrad, who shot again. The person was Hilson, who was dead before EMTs called by Conrad’s relatives arrived. Hilson had no criminal record but one DUI, but he was described as a severe alcoholic going through personal turmoil at the time. His parents believe he was trying to visit another neighbor where he sometimes stayed.
The State’s Attorney’s office is likely still considering whether to file charges because the circumstances do not fall neatly into those described by the law. As a Pompano Beach wrongful death attorney, I understand how frustrating that must be for Hilson’s parents as well as for Conrad. However, this case is a good reminder that even when state officials do not file criminal charges in connection with a death, victims’ families still have the right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim cannot put perpetrators in prison, but it can help victims’ families bring those perpetrators to justice. And because these are civil cases, the standard of evidence is slightly lower, allowing families to win a case even when prosecutors believe a criminal case wouldn’t win.
Cohn, Smith & Cohn is proud to represent families who have lost a loved one through someone else’s actions in Florida. We know many clients are initially reluctant to pursue a lawsuit because no amount of money can bring back their loved ones. Unfortunately, that’s true — but in our experience, a wrongful death claim is not about greed. Not only can a lawsuit penalize the perpetrator financially, but it can expose the bad practices or behaviors that caused the death in the first place. It can also provide a needed lifeline for families that suddenly and permanently lose an income because of the death, especially if they are also struggling to pay accident-related medical bills that reach five or six figures. Our Miramar wrongful death lawyers help clients claim all of these costs, as well as compensation for their personal losses, pain and suffering and other devastating consequences of the defendant’s actions.
If you’ve lost someone in an accident you believe was caused by someone else’s bad decisions, don’t hesitate to call Cohn, Smith & Cohn for help. To set up a free evaluation of your case, please contact us through the Internet or call (954) 431-8100 today.