by Marty Hayes, J.D.
I suspect most members reading this have heard about the settlement in the Remington Firearms case. According to a Bearing Arms news report entitled NSSF says insurance companies, not firearms industry, agreed to Remington settlement the insurance companies which backed Remington decided it would be more cost effective to settle the suit as opposed to fight it and risk a huge jury verdict against them, along with incurring the exorbitant legal costs. For non-members reading this who have enrolled in one of the self-defense insurance plans, this is just one of the reasons why the Network has no insurance component and never will.
You see, the insurance company cares about one thing and one thing only. That one thing, of course, is the bottom line of the financial statement at the end of the year. This means they will deal away your case if it costs less to settle than to fight. I saw an example of this first hand in the case of State of AZ v. Larry Hickey, reported at https://armedcitizensnetwork.org/images/stories/Hickey_Booklet.pdf .
I sat in on and testified in Larry’s first trial. During the time I was in court, his case was being monitored by a lawyer for his homeowners insurance company. Larry had been sued, along with being prosecuted. After the insurance company lawyer saw the evidence against Larry, the company decided to settle the case, regardless of the possible outcome of the criminal trial. Larry had NO SAY in whether the insurance company settled. Remember, the burden of proof is different between civil cases and criminal cases.
So, let’s say you are not too worried about the civil side, but instead are primarily worried about the criminal side. If your self-defense insurance plan guarantees a certain amount of money to fight an unmeritorious prosecution, be sure to read the fine print of the contract you sign. In at least two of the companies with which I am familiar, the fine print includes a “recoupment clause” specifying that the insurance company can come after you to repay them for the cost of trial, IF you are found guilty or plead to a lesser crime. That’s right, you may have to pay them back if you don’t win an acquittal. To me, this is pretty scary.
I hear well-meaning people advise that it doesn’t make any difference what protection plan you get, just get one. Well, it actually does matter, as I’ve explained.
The Network gets assailed for our up-front explanation that the merits of your claim of self-defense will be looked at by our advisory board before a funding decision is made. Our critics suggest that is a bad thing, because your request for assistance could be turned down. Well, here is the dirty little secret about all these other plans: they will also look at the merits of the case, and if they don’t believe your actions were lawful, they will turn you down, too. It might even happen after their initial funding of the case. In the case of Kayla Giles, who was recently convicted of murder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_GOWclQk8E) the company first paid $50,000 up front, then when the attorney requested more, they turned the request down, even though the limit for criminal defense was $150,000. They are now being sued by Kayla Giles and her attorneys for breach of contract.
Another major reason I do not like self-defense insurance, is that if you are sued for more than the policy limits and the plaintiff wins a judgment that exceeds the policy limits, you are on the hook for everything over the policy limit. This is important because in my opinion, having an insurance policy invites lawsuits. Without insurance, there is much less chance you will be sued, especially if you are not wealthy. (This was the topic of an Attorney Question of the Month column some years ago. See Oct. 2014, Nov. 2014 and Dec. 2014.)
The Network does not promise to pay any particular amount of money up-front, but we also place no limit on the amount of money we could spend in your defense. In the beginning, when we didn’t have that much money in the Legal Defense Fund, we used to say that we would limit the amount to one-half of the Fund, for any given member. Now, with more than three million dollars in the Fund, that is not an issue.
The member (and those considering joining) should assess the underlying purpose of any company they’re considering. For the companies which are backed by insurance companies, I believe the underlying purpose of the company is to make money. They are in essence insurance brokers, selling a policy, but calling it a different name. I believe this is deceitful, because if they promoted the insurance angle up-front, people (some of whom have a real hatred for insurance companies) might not sign on.
These companies continue to market through hard-sell pressure tactics and give aways and one claims 600,000 members, another 700,000. That makes our 19,000+ members look paltry by comparison but we consider ourselves very successful, because it was never our intent to just make money. We needed to fill the Legal Defense Fund, so our members would have money available for legal defense when needed. We need to profit in order to stay in business, but we never set out with making money as a priority.
We were the first company in the marketplace to offer assistance with legal expenses after self defense. Even at the very beginning, we knew we wanted no part of insurance, so we hit upon the idea of the Legal Defense Fund, and how it could be filled by the members’ dues. While we did not risk a lot of money to start the Network in 2008, we risked something even more valuable. Our reputations. Both Gila and I were well-known in the firearms training business, as authors and instructors. We were trusted and respected, and if the Network failed, our reputations would be affected. We are still driven to earn the trust and respect of our members; it is the underlying principle that drives us.
Massad Ayoob, Tom Givens, John Farnam, Dennis Tueller and the late great Jim Cirillo showed their trust in us by joining the Network as our first advisory board members. The value of that demonstration of their trust in us cannot be understated. These guys were very well-respected by the firearms world. It meant everything to have them understand the purpose behind the Network, and enthusiastically embrace the concept and its execution by Gila and me and Vincent Shuck (who had his own stellar professional reputation from the world of organization management). In re-reading my foregoing thoughts, I realize it sounds kind of self-serving. That’s not my intention. Instead, I need to point out that our reputation in the industry is the guarantee that we will perform for our members.
Why did I start the Network? Because I had seen armed citizen after armed citizen prosecuted for legitimate acts of self defense. I primarily wanted to be able to do something for my students, to offer them help if they were in a jam. During 2006-2007, while I was going to law school, I started asking my students if an organization such as the Network existed, would they be a part of it? I had always figured it would be a part-time endeavor requiring little time, as both Gila and I were teaching at the Firearms Academy of Seattle and kept busy running the school. We didn’t really need another job.
During those years, we met Vincent Shuck, who occasionally traveled from his home in Chicago to train with us. He was an association manager and we discussed with him the possibility of joining us if we got the Network off the ground. He agreed, as he was in the process of retiring from his management position and moving out to Washington State.
I graduated from law school in 2007 and we started working out the details of the organization, along with recruiting our stellar advisory board. In 2008 we officially formed the Network and set out to see if it would fly. Within a few years Gila quit writing, teaching and running the academy, spending all her working hours building the Network. A couple years later, I stepped back from my role as lead instructor and began working full-time for the Network, as well.
We did not form the Network for the money, instead we wanted to help our fellow armed citizens when needed. We staked our reputation and our word on fulfilling our promises to Network members. That is why you didn’t have to sign some multi-page contract full of legalese when you joined. Our word is our contract and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.