§6.6 Defense – Self-Defense

The Case: Poliak v. Adcock , No. M2000-02325-COA-R3-CV, 2002 WL 31109737 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 24, 2002).

The Basic Facts: Defendant got into a fight with his daughter's live in boyfriend. He raised several defenses, including self-defense.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Self-defense is a complete defense to a civil action for battery. Dent v. Holt, No. 01A01-9302-CV-00072, 1994 WL 503891, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 16, 1994) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed). Thus, persons who can prove that they were acting in self-defense when they assaulted another person will be absolved from liability for the injuries they may have caused." 2002 WL 31109737 at *3.
  • "The elements of the defense are essentially the same in civil and criminal cases. Shelby Ins. Co. v. Mathes, No. E2000-00186-COA-R3-CV, 2000 WL 1035949, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2000) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed); [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) of Torts § 63 (1965)]. The defense reflects the principle that persons are entitled to defend themselves when they reasonably believe they are about to be seriously injured. [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) of Torts §§ 63, 65 (1965)]; Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-611(a) (1997). However, persons are entitled to use force to defend themselves only as long as the threat of injury continues, Sneed v. Englert, Hamilton Law, 1984 Tenn. App. LEXIS 2657, at *3-4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 1984) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed), and may use only as much force as is necessary to defend themselves. McLemore v. Moore, 2 Tenn. Cas. (Shannon) 142, 143 (1876); McCain v. Vaughn, No. 02A01-9707-CV-00154, 1999 WL 95974, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb, 26, 1999) (No Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed); Dent v. Holt, 1994 WL 503891, at *2." Id.
  • "The [RESTATEMENT] provides fact-finders with factors for determining whether the amount of force used by a person acting in self-defense was reasonable. These factors include: (1) the amount of force the defender exerted, (2) the means or the object by which the defender applied the force, (3) the manner or method used by the defender to apply the force, and (4) the surrounding circumstances under which the defender applied the force. [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) of Torts] § 70 cmt. b. Using similar factors, this court has upheld a trial court's conclusion that a person who threw an aggressor to the ground and repeatedly hit him had used more force than was reasonably necessary. McCain v. Vaughn , 1999 WL 95974, at *2." Id. at *4.

Recent Cases:  Merriweather v. Smith, No. W2009-02656-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 4892641 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2010) (upholding verdict in plaintiff’s favor for assault where defendant hit plaintiff in back of head with beer bottle finding court reasonably inferred that plaintiff was walking away at the time).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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