Trucking Law Expert Answers if Truckers Have the Right to “Stand Your Ground” if Attacked
Little Rock, AR – As reports continue to emerge this week of rioters targeting big rigs amid the social unrest and outrage over the death of George Floyd, truckers are being faced with increasing dangers.
One trucker’s recent viral social media post urging drivers to use deadly force, if required, to protect yourself is sparking debate about the legal right to “stand your ground.”
It’s important for truckers to understand the law and your rights if, God forbid, you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
For answers, we turned to Joe Pappalardo of the Gallagher Sharp law firm in Cleveland, OH.
Pappalardo has been practicing law in the transportation industry for 40 years.
He spends most of his time representing trucking companies in complex and multi-million dollar accident cases, but jumped at the chance to discuss this ongoing issue.
Pappalardo says that if a trucker is faced with imminent harm or a “reasonable” fear of violence, he is within his rights to protect himself.
“If you use force that is intended or likely to cause great bodily harm to another, and if that person is in the process of unlawfully entering [your truck], then there is a presumption that you are allowed to use that force,” Pappalardo informed.
Specifically, he pointed to “stand your ground” laws, also sometimes referred to as the “Castle Doctrine.”
These laws in states across the country allow for people to defend themselves when threatened, especially while in their homes, but the latitude given varies from state to state.
For instance, Pappalardo looked up the law in Ohio and in the Buckeye State the stand your ground provision extends to your vehicle as well as your home.
Even in states that don’t have specific stand your ground laws, Pappalardo says a prosecutor would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the trucker acted with criminal intent which he said is a very “high standard” to meet.
However, the standard of proof is much lower in a civil case.
In those instances, Pappalardo says a “reasonable care” standard is applied.
“Think about what the average person being called for jury duty would think about this,” he urged. “There is going to be more than one version and the protesters are going to say something different than the trucker.”
What about the argument that a trucker used excessive force when it was the cargo the looters really wanted?
“The law would make a distinction between purely protecting property and protecting a person, but no one could know that they were only interested in packages, so it would be reasonable to assume that I, myself, is in danger and I have a right to get out of here,” Pappalardo explained.
Family of St. Louis Riot Victim Blames Trucker
One such civil case could soon make its way into the legal system after a St. Louis man was killed by a tractor-trailer amid a riot last weekend.
According to video evidence and authorities, 29-year-old Barry Perkins III of the Glasgow Village, along with a group of rioters, attacked a FedEx big rig in the early morning hours last Saturday.
Perkins became stuck on the converter dolly between the dual trailers.
As the truck pulled away, authorities say Perkins was caught by one of the tires and pulled under the rig.
He was dragged several blocks.
Perkins later died at a nearby hospital.
On Wednesday evening, the Associated Press reported The Witherspoon Law Group (WLG) was hired to represent the Perkins family.
In a statement through WLG, the family claims Perkins “was peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd and was not looting Saturday when he was dragged” by the FedEx truck, placing the blame on the driver.
“There is no justification for running over a human being with a semi-truck,” the statement said.
Should a civil suit be filed by Perkins’ family, Pappalardo says the law in this case protects the trucker and FedEx through what’s known as “expressed assumption of the risk.”
“No one is allowed to assume that kind of a risk and then sue someone when something bad happens,” he explained. “If someone puts themselves in a position of peril in that close proximity to a big truck or any vehicle that’s moving, then that person assumes the risk of being hurt or killed.”
Authorities have yet to reveal the identity of the trucker or indicate if he will face criminal charges.
Hate Speech or Inciting Violence?
Some on social media have accused truckers who have shared the viral post, or personally expressed similar sentiments, of promoting the very behavior they are condemning.
In fact, some are calling for those who are urging truckers to use lethal force, if necessary, to be prosecuted for “inciting violence” or even a “hate speech” crime.
Could someone be charged with such an offense?
Pappalardo says he sees no legal jeopardy there.
“You can’t prosecute someone for their thoughts. It might be a little strident, but I don’t think it would be prosecutable to just say that on Facebook. It doesn’t rise to the level of unprotected speech,” he stated.