Civil immunity provision contained in just-passed 'Castle Doctrine' bill

By Jon Campisi | Jun 21, 2011

Pennsylvanians who find themselves involved in justified self-defense shootings will no longer face civil lawsuits if a bill that sailed through the state senate this week becomes law.

Late Monday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Senate, on a 45-5 vote, passed the so-called “Castle Doctrine” bill, which expands gun owners’ rights by OK’ing self-defense shootings outside the home in situations where victims can’t safely retreat from an attacker.

Under current state law, those under threat outside the home have a duty to retreat from before resorting to deadly force.

In addition to providing safeguards for those under threat inside and outside the home, the bill, which has Gov. Tom Corbett’s support, also contains a civil immunity provision.

If a shooting is ruled legitimate self-defense by law enforcement, the shooter will no longer be able to be sued in civil court by his or her attacker, if the person lives, or by surviving family members of the attacker.

Proponents of the law, including its main sponsors, have said there’s no reason an attack victim should have to endure the added heartache of being sued by someone who attacked him or her in the first place.

“The tenets of justice are turned on their head in favor of the would-be perpetrator,” state Rep. Scott Perry, a York County Republican, said in a prior interview with the Pennsylvania Record. “The ultimate insult upon injury having been attacked … and then having to defend yourself, only to find yourself defending yourself in the legal system, I don’t know how much more incorrect, turned-on-its-head wrong that could be.”

Perry was the main sponsor of H.B. 40, which had already passed the state House by an overwhelming majority before Monday’s Senate vote.

The civil immunity provision is just one aspect of a bill that gives legally armed citizens the ability to resort to using deadly force anywhere they have a legal right to be, which includes on public streets and in motor vehicles.

Proponents have for years called for a strong Castle Doctrine, which derives its name from the fact that the home is often referred to as one’s “castle.”

A handful of other states have similar self-defense laws on the books. These are typically referred to as “stand-your-ground” laws, in which attack victims do not have to retreat first, if there’s a safe avenue by which to do so.

Gov. Corbett’s spokespeople have said the chief executive has plans to sign the bill, they just don’t know when yet.

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