A Civil Suit Could Make Zimmerman Pay — or Could Backfire

In the end, "Stand your ground" played a small role in George Zimmerman's acquittal, but it could pose a big risk to Trayvon Martin's family if they pursue a civil trial

  • Share
  • Read Later

The jury weighing criminal charges against George Zimmerman has spoken, but the case may not be over — and that jury might not be the only jury. Trayvon Martin’s family is considering filing a wrongful-death civil suit against Zimmerman, which could produce a very different result. But it could also backfire.

Hollywood is not the only industry that believes in sequels. When criminal trials end — whether with a conviction or an acquittal — the victims are still free to sue for money damages. Most famously, after O.J. Simpson beat the murder charges against him, the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman sued him and won $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. (Whether the families were able to collect that money is a different story.)

(MORE: Viewpoint: Was Zimmerman Telling the Truth?)

A lawyer for Martin’s family put a civil lawsuit squarely on the table in a postverdict appearance on ABC’s This Week. “They are certainly going to look at that as an option,” Benjamin Crump said. “They deeply want a sense of justice.” The family has already received a settlement from a wrongful-death claim they made against the homeowners’ association of the subdivision where the shooting occurred, perhaps for more than $1 million. (The Department of Justice is also, separately, considering whether to bring federal hate-crime charges against Zimmerman.)

There are some good reasons to believe a civil suit could win, even after prosecutors struck out. Civil trials have a lower standard of proof than criminal trials. Instead of having to establish guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” — a particularly hard threshold to meet in a homicide case with few witnesses and little hard physical evidence — in a civil case, the Martin family would only have to prove it was more likely than not that Zimmerman’s negligence caused Martin’s death.

There would also be a new jury — perhaps one chosen in a different jurisdiction. Some trial watchers thought the jury that heard Zimmerman’s case was a good one for the defense — not least because it was nearly all white. The next jury might see the encounter between Zimmerman and Martin very differently. Another big difference: in a civil case, Zimmerman would likely have to testify. He chose not to take the stand in the criminal case — a right protected by the Fifth Amendment — and that seems to have been a smart move. At a civil trial, lawyers could cross-examine Zimmerman about the details, and inconsistencies, of his account of the shooting.

But for all of the potential upside, there would also be risks for Martin’s family in suing. First, while money may not be their primary motivation, Zimmerman does not seem to have millions of dollars lying around to pay a civil-damages award. There have been widespread predictions that in the next few years he will be richly rewarded with book deals and speaking fees — this is America, after all — but he likely also has some big legal bills to pay.

The bigger threat to Martin’s family would be Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, which wound up playing a small role in the criminal trial. Under the law, if Martin’s family sued, Zimmerman would be entitled to a hearing at which he would be given a chance to show that he used deadly force only because he was in reasonable fear of death or serious injury. He skipped that step before the criminal trial, but he would no doubt take it if he were sued. And if Zimmerman won his “Stand your ground” hearing, he would not only get the civil suit thrown out, but the law also says that whoever sued him would have to pay him attorneys fees, expenses and compensation for any loss of income resulting from the proceedings. That would be a bitter pill for the family to swallow: the man who shot their son to death beating the criminal charges, getting the civil lawsuit dismissed — and then presenting them with a bill.

MORE: I Am Still Trayvon Martin


Trayvon Martin was a lesson to us all...we are on a slippery slope to the same infighting we're witnessing in many countries. "Factions" have always been a huge part of the american experience, embedded into each of us from birth, forced upon us by the women that rear us and the fathers that sire, this one against that one, those against us etc. We bring them in by the multitude, all ready to indulge in this macabre dance we called a " United" state. I believe we will allow this to happen because it seems to be a trend of sorts. "Moderate" populations seem to be too; "wet noodle" to confront the forces that make up the fringes or extremist, be they right or left. I would love for those of us that are "moderate" and tempered in our approach, to be the true" force" that drives our discourse, debates and ultimately our "United" state.


I hate to say it, but am I the only one that sees Martin protected by the Stand Your Ground law? Until such time as Zimmerman announced to Martin the he (Zimmerman) was "Security" or "Neighborhood Watch" ( Which he never did ) Martin was protected by the SYG law. What? You have to live to use that defense? "Horse Droppings! Why can't the Judge do an SYG on the side of Martin? (Something I have argued since the very beginning, which would have dramatically changed the prosecution of Zimmerman ) If anybody covered by the SYG it should be Martin. Under the SYG law Martin could have attacked Zimmerman legally and in my opinion Martin died fighting a "Creepy Cracker" because Zimmerman never told him he was an Official for the community.


@RichBrunelle How do you know if Zimmerman id'ed himself or not? Were you there?
Second, George never confronted Trayvon, he was FOLLOWING until police arrived.
Third, this case was not about SYG. The gun control wacko's attached this to this case, but is was NOT an issue here. This was Trayvon attacking a person, trying to steal his gun, and getting shot for it.
Now, unless you have some irrefutable evidence that contradicts this, then you are just flapping your gums.
Also, you CANNOT use SYG if YOU (Trayvon) are the AGGRESSOR!!!!!

Now Mr. "Creepy Gigaboo", SYG DOES NOT GIVE A PERSON THE RIGHT TO ASSAULT SOMEBODY, but can only be used in SELF-DEFENCE. Trayvon was 100 YARDS from his father's girlfriends house (where he was staying after getting expelled from school and needing to en-roll in another District).
Trayvon also had a cell phone. If Trayvon was so scared, why didn't he hang up on his girlfriend and call 911 on that (as you put it) "Creepy Cracker" (By the way, Zimmerman is as much a "Creepy Cracker" as is your messiah, Barack Obama. He is a "White-Negro", or "Creepy  Cracker" LOL!!!!)
If Trayvon was so scared then why didn't he just continue home instead of LOSING George and then coming up behind him?
Trayvon would still be a live if he hadn't been trying to be a thug.


For Mr Adam Cohen :

But for all of the potential upside, there would also be risks for Martin’s family in suing. First, while money may not be their primary motivation, Zimmerman does not seem to have millions of dollars lying around to pay a civil-damages award. There have been widespread predictions that in the next few years he will be richly rewarded with book deals and speaking fees — this is America, after all — but he likely also has some big legal bills to pay

 Do you sympathize with the defendant too? Poor  How dare you think that the Martins who lost a son somehow are cashing in on their sons death?  and George Zimmerman is the upstanding citizen who they are milking for money! HOW dare you!


Thank you TIME Magazine for playing the ever-present race card in your concluding sentence, "...the man who shot their son to death beating the criminal charges",  GZ didn't BEAT the charges; he was found NOT GUILTY of committing the crimes for which he was tried.  May we look for a follow-up story  in which you purport him to be a member of the Zombie Apocalypse?


"We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish as fools." - Martin Luther King Jr.

 Okay all you racist haters.
{Let's see if Time publishes this and how long it will take for someone to "Flag" it. Can't have the TRUTH getting out there, right?

I am going to post some facts about myself.
Then some facts about Trayvon Martin, and make a comparison. Bear with me for a few moments, I will get to the point.

I am White. I am 56 years old. I am 5 feet 10 inches tall. I currently weigh @150 lbs. I am a United States Marine Corps veteran trained in hand to hand combat. I have also taken courses on self-defence.
As a Marine veteran, I am familiar with various weapons including guns.
I am very intelligent, my military records will attest to that.

It was me instead of George Zimmerman.
I am carrying a legally registered, legally owned properly permitted handgun.
I have a verifiable history of dating women of other races including Blacks.
I am well liked and respected in my neighbourhood, which consists of 49% White, 23% Black  23% Hispanic and 5% Asian..

I live in a neighbourhood that has had a rash of burglaries and home invasions. All of these are being committed by Black people.
The neighbourhood starts up a Neighbourhood Watch in hopes of curbing the crime. I am asked to be the Watch Captain.

On this particular night I run into 17 year old John Doe, 5 feet 9 inches, 158lbs.
He is sporting gang tattoos having an appearance of prison tattoos.
(Official Trayvon Martin Autopsy; link provided)


This John Doe is wearing a "hoodie" to cover his face, walking around in the rain.
I have never seen this person before even though I have lived here for many years.

I am unable to positively identify his race to the police when I call 911 to alert them of a suspicious person.
When asked by 911 Dispatcher whether he is White, Hispanic or Black, I reply "He looks Black".
Less than a minute later I give a positive ID as to race [black] and that the person is approaching me with his hands in his waist band.
{From Zimmerman 911 tape}


I start following this suspicious person so that police can locate him. 911 Dispatcher says I should not follow, but I do anyway. John Doe starts to run.
I lose John Doe.

John Doe comes up from behind and attacks me.


A few things about fighting and staying alive.

Rule #1: Never underestimate your opponent. Always assume your opponent knows everything you know and more, that he is quicker and stronger than you. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE YOUR OPPONENT.

Rule #2: You fight to win. You do whatever is necessary to win a fight and possibly save your life.

Rule #3: Weight and size are irrelevant in a fight as is strength. All of these can be negated quickly. What matters is fighting knowledge and balance. (When I say balance, I mean using balance, inertia and the opponents movements against them)

Now, when somebody attacks me from the rear, it is automatic thinking for me to assume that my life is in grave danger. "Is there any other kind?" - Jack Nicholson "A Few Good Men"

Now in ANY fight I get into, I assume that my opponent intends to do me physical harm. This harm could end up permanent or even fatal.

(A blow to the head could cause a blood clot and a stroke. A punch in the chest could stop a heart or be fatal to someone with breathing problems. Other physical problems could also cause severe injuries. All of these health conditions would be unknown to any assailant.)

So, I have been caught off guard and have been attacked and knocked to the ground. My assailant is pummelling me with blow after blow and then reaches for my gun.
At this time, my assailant is dead, or I am dead. I maintain possession and control of my weapon and fire at my assailant, striking him in the chest. He is dead.
ANY time you try and take a Police Officers weapon, guess what, YOU GET SHOT! And JUSTIFIABLY SO! The same holds true for Average Joe American.

Now I ask you, which one of you in the same situation would not fight for your life?
Do you really think the person assaulting you wants to do psycho-therapy before robbing or attacking you?
Has this person given you any reason to think they are rational?
Do you really care about the age of the assailant who is beating you and trying to kill you?
Do you really think your assailant is going to provide you with ID to show that he is or isn't a minor? Or for ANY reason?

Did George Zimmerman make mistakes that night? Yes, he did, but none of them equated to a criminal offence. Including the shooting of Trayvon.

Did Trayvon Martin make mistakes that night? Most certainly, including the one that got him killed, trying to take Mr. Zimmerman's gun. Young and foolish, yes. But a young foolish kid can kill you just as dead as a professional hit-man. Dead is dead.

And just how many news stories have we heard over the years of kids taking guns to schools and shooting other kids? How many 10, 11, 12 year old's have been arrested for murder? Gun crimes?

And if it isn't one thing, it's another. Everybody was all happy George got arrested, everybody was glad the jury was seated. (Especially the Black community at large since it gave them yet another chance to holler racism if he was acquitted.)

The ONLY evidence that 99.9% of you know comes from the MSM.
The same MSM that originally reported Trayvon was shot by a White man (This was 44 DAYS after the shooting). Then he was a White-Hispanic.
{Why have we never heard that term applied to our White-Negro President? (Oh, let me guess, that would be racist)}
The same MSM that ADMITTED it EDITED the 911 tapes TWICE when reporting the story to make it seem that George was racist.
The same MSM that printed pictures of a young 12 year old boy instead of a more recent (and readily available I might add) 17 year old? (This was done to evoke emotion, sympathy instead of presenting the UNBIASED facts).
Why the picture of George in an orange prison jump-suit instead of a suit and tie (also readily available? (This was also to stir emotions, but this time those of contempt and an assumption of guilt)
NONE of you have actually RESEARCHED this case, you rely on the 6 o'clock news and John down the street who heard it "from a reliable source".
And why the insistent repeating of "facts" that just aren't?


@Palerider1957 This awesome.  Is the rest to come?  Great essay so far and thank you for your service to our great but messed up country.


@Palerider1957 OK, I'm watch Capt. I profile TM. He goes up the sidewalk toward his home. I give the police the address. As watch Capt. and longtime res. I know the street names--there are only three of them. If I forgot it in all my excitement, I drive to the crnr and get the name. Better yet, call emergency so they have me on GPS. I stay in my truck where It's safe and dry.  If TM is lurking waiting to attack, the police find him and his Skittles and tea and walk him home. I go home and go to bed. Everyone lives happily ever after.


@EddieShoebridge @Palerider1957 It would help if you stuck with KNOWN FACTS.
FACT #1 Trayvon was shot 100 yards form his father's girlfriends house. 100YARDS!!!
Trayvon had a WORKING CELL PHONE WITH RECEPTION (he was talking with his girlfriend remember. And we know he had excellent signal because his girlfriend testified that she could hear the GRASS under Trayvon being crushed" LOL)
So, if Trayvon was so scared, then why didn't he just continue home? Maybe even RUN due to the big scary man following him? Why the need to lose George and come up behind him and confront him?
Now the cell phone. If Trayvon was this "innocent little kid" and "scared", then why didn't he hang up on his girl and call 911 to report a man with a gun was following him? How long do you think it takes for police to responded to a "man with a gun" call?
Do you also not think that had he called 911, they would have been able to tell Trayvon that he was the Neighborhood Watch Captain? Hey, if he had done EITHER of those two things, he would still be alive!
Trayvon is dead because he was a thug and bit off more than he could choose. The results are justified.


Trayvon's parents are shocked by the jurys decision---but the reason they feel that way is because they have failed to recognize what kind of a person Trayvon was.  Trayvon was obvioulsy a better and stronger street fighter than Zimmerman. When Trayvon was beating Zimmermans head onto the sidewalk, it was no different than stomping on Zimmermans head with his feet---a common hateful and murderous form of street fighting. Zimmerman had no choice but to shoot Trayvon in order to save his life.  That is not a loving son--that is a hateful strong person trying to murder another human.


@LouisCalabro So it was their fault that Zimmerman was to weak to hold his own in a fight that he started? Or that he chose to get out of the truck and attempt to make a citizen's arrest on a kid that was doing nothing wrong?


@mantisdragon91 @LouisCalabro first dummy he was not going to make a citizens arrest, he was keeping and eye the moron, like neighborhood watch does everywhere. And like most blacks you assume he was getting his ass kicked because we all know black men can beat up every white man they get into a fight with. And Tm was not a kid he was 17 a minor but not make him sound like he was a little boy he was a thug with a history of fighting in school almost everyday and was know to hate whites.


@mantisdragon91 @Openminded1 @LouisCalabro and i am considered black by everyone. who sees me. and you know for a fact the Gz grabbed him first. Not likely Tm was know to love to fight and hate whites. GZ was not know to hate blacks he had a record of violence but so did TM who also could hace called 911 if he was afraid he wasnt he was confrontaional.