Bill would shield business owners using deadly force from civil suits

March 27, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Carroll County legislators have introduced a bill providing new legal protection to business owners in cases such as one this month in which two brothers are under investigation in the fatal shooting of a man during what police said was an attempted burglary of their Glyndon concrete business.

The measure would shield owners from civil lawsuits for deadly force against someone "who unlawfully and forcefully enters" their business. It would not affect criminal prosecutions.

Del. Carmen Amedori, a Carroll Republican, said yesterday the bill is in response to an incident in which a Baltimore man was killed and two Baltimore County men were wounded at Back River Supply Inc. Police said Matthew J. Geckle and Dominic A. Geckle were guarding the plant with shotguns after previous burglaries.

"Your property is your property, and if you're not going to defend it, who will?" Amedori said.

An attorney representing the family of Jonathan Steinbach, 24, the man who was killed in the shooting, sent a certified letter to the Geckles over the weekend notifying them that he intended to file a wrongful death civil suit.

"We think the loss of a father is worth more than the loss of a chain saw," said Gary S. Bernstein, the attorney. The legislation is "the most ridiculous thing" he has ever heard of, Bernstein said.

"If they pass that, then I think they ought to also make sure they don't pass the body armor bill," he said, referring to a measure in the Assembly to restrict the use of bulletproof vests. "Because if every lunatic is going to be able to shoot someone, then I want to make sure I can have body armor."

An identical version of the bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican Larry E. Haines of Carroll County.

It will be difficult to win approval for the measure with only two weeks left before the end of the legislative session. "We know that it's tough, but the members of the General Assembly take this very seriously," Amedori said.

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