Can You Sue Someone For Inciting Violence Against You?

11 August 2016
 Categories: Law, Blog


If someone assaults you, you can usually sue that person for damages and losses you suffer as a result of the incident. However, what if the person claimed he or she was incited by another to commit an act of violence against you? Could you also hold the inciter liable for damages as well? It's possible, but there are some challenges you'll have to overcome to successfully win the case. Here's what you need to know.

Must Prove Defendant Encouraged Imminent Lawless Action

Many people may be surprised to learn that certain calls to violence are protected by the First Amendment. This is the result of the court case Brandenburg v. Ohio. Clarence Brandenburg was arrested for advocating violence when, during a speech directed to other members of the KKK, he declared "revengeance" should be taken against Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President for—what he perceived to be—racial crimes against white Americans.

He was convicted under an Ohio state law that prohibited advocating violence as a way of achieving political reform. However, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, reasoning that since Brandenburg's speech didn't (and was unlikely to) incite imminent lawless action, the speech was protected by the First Amendment.

What this means for a plaintiff trying to hold a defendant responsible for inciting someone to violence is you must show the person's speech or actions was likely to provoke, or the direct cause of, the assault. This may be easy in some cases. For instance, if one person yells at another individual to hit you and that individual does, then you could tie the speaker to the assaulter's actions.

In other cases, though, the connection is not so clear cut. On May 31, 2009, George Tiller—a medical doctor who performed late-term abortions—was murdered by anti-abortionist Scott Roeder. Prior to that occurring, Bill O'Reilly spoke in derogative terms about Dr. Tiller, calling him "Tiller the Baby Killer" and stating Tiller operated a death mill, among other things.

While these statements could be seen as inflammatory rhetoric that may have inspired Scott Roeder to shoot Tiller, O'Reilly did not actually advocate violence against the doctor. Therefore, it would be difficult to hold the talk-show host liable for Tiller's death.

Proving Your Case in Court

The success of your case will hinge on whether the person's words were likely to cause a third party to act against you. There are a couple of ways you can show this. The easiest, of course, is by providing direct quotes of the person encouraging others to hurt you. For instance, you can provide screenshots of the person's social media posts asking someone to punch you in the face.

The other option is to show that imminent lawless action was likely to result from the person's speech. For instance, if the person knew that saying certain trigger words would cause another person to behave violently towards you, then you may be able to connect the inciter to the crime and win damages for your injuries.

This type of case can be very challenging to litigate. It's best to work with a personal injury attorney from a law firm like Randall A. Wolff & Associates, Ltd to develop a strategy to achieve the outcome you want.