Burglars should not have right to sue their victims
PICTURE this scenario: After an exhausting day at the office, it's 11 p.m., you've tucked the kids in bed, and you and your wife turn out the lights to go to sleep. In the middle of the night, a burglar breaks into your bedroom intent on stealing your valuables. You catch him in the act, tackle him, he falls down the stairs and breaks his arm and suffers a concussion. The police haul him away, and the courts put him in jail for a long time because of his many prior arrests. Then one day, you're handed legal papers and find out that the guy who broke into your house is suing you for using excessive force.
Are you thinking this could never happen? In 2006, Michael Rainiero, a physician and homeowner in Jainesville, Wis., awoke one evening to find an intruder in his hallway. Rainiero asked the intruder to leave several times, but the intruder refused. Rainiero then went back into his bedroom and grabbed a pistol. He was shaking out of fear and yelled once more asking the man to leave.
THE INTRUDER refused, so Rainiero shot him. The trespasser was charged with burglary and felony criminal damage and is currently in prison for other crimes he committed. What's really interesting is that the burglar filed a lawsuit claiming that Rainiero used excessive force in defending himself, his wife and their two daughters.
If you're not squirming in your chair after reading that last sentence, you should be. There's currently a loophole in the law which allows homeowners to be sued by an intruder if he is injured while trying to rob you and harm your family.
The remedy? Thanks to one of my Kapolei constituents who brought this issue to my attention, I've introduced Senate Bill 1617, which passed the Senate unanimously on March 6. SB 1617 would provide homeowners immunity from civil liability and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen in Hawaii. The bill is supported by Attorney General Mark Bennett, who stated that the "passage of this bill would deter criminals from filing frivolous civil claims."
WE'VE BEEN plagued with high property crime rates for many years. This problem has been fueled by drug addiction, especially from the abuse of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice." According to Department of Justice Statistics, Hawaii was ranked No. 17 in the nation for burglary in 2005.
Just last month, police nabbed a 17-year-old boy and two other suspects in a rash of 78 burglaries in Mililani resulting in losses of more than $100,000 for the families. These guys allegedly robbed their victims during daylight hours and were looking for specific items, like expensive TVs and computers. The question for Hawaii homeowners is, what happens if one of them was somehow injured while they were attempting to make off with the stolen goods? It's bad enough for a family to be violated like this and lose their possessions. What's even worse is that without the passage of SB 1617, the criminals could sue and attempt to make the owner pay damages. Sounds unthinkable, but this could happen.
It's time for us to close a loophole in Hawaii's law so that no one will have to go through the crazy ordeal that Michael Rainiero had to go through.
Sen. Mike Gabbard, a Republican, represents Waikele, Village Park, Royal Kunia, Makakilo, Kapolei, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, and parts of Ko Olina and Waipahu.