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Defense of Others

Defense of Others

In an action against a defendant for an intentional tort, such as battery, the defendant may defend the action by claiming that he or she acted in self-defense. Similarly, under some circumstances, a defendant may claim defense of others as a defense. Defense of others is a proper defense when the person the defendant was trying to defend would have been justified in using force to defend himself or herself.

For example, a defendant and his friend are drinking in a bar. A customer starts a fight with the friend. The defendant sees the customer pick up a pool cue and advance on the friend. In order to stop the customer from hitting the friend with the pool cue, the defendant trips the customer, causing him or her to fall to the floor. The customer files an action for battery against the defendant. The defendant can claim defense of others as a defense in the action because he or she was trying to prevent the customer from injuring his or her friend and the friend would have been justified in using force to defend himself or herself.

Reasonable Force

A person who uses force to defend himself or herself may use only the amount of force that appeared to be reasonably necessary to prevent the harm. In a case involving the defense of another, the defendant may use only the amount of force that he of she would have been justified in using if the threat were against him or her.

Therefore, in the example above, if the defendant would have been justified in tripping the customer if the customer were advancing on him or her with a pool cue, then the defendant used a reasonable amount of force in defending the friend. However, if the defendant tripped the customer and then beat him or her until he or she was unconscious, the defendant could not claim defense of others in the customer’s action for battery. That amount of force was more than was reasonably necessary to prevent the harm.

Mistake

In some states, a defendant may claim defense of others even if he or she made a reasonable mistake regarding the danger to the other person. In other states, a defendant may not claim defense of others if he or she was mistaken regarding the danger.

For example, a defendant and his or her friend are walking on a sidewalk in a city. The defendant strikes a pedestrian because he or she reasonably but mistakenly believes that the pedestrian is going to assault his or her friend. The pedestrian files a battery action against the defendant. The defendant may or may not be able to claim defense of others, depending on the state in which the action is filed.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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