But for all of the potential upside, there would also be risks for Martin’s family in suing. First, while money may not be their primary motivation, Zimmerman does not seem to have millions of dollars lying around to pay a civil-damages award. There have been widespread predictions that in the next few years he will be richly rewarded with book deals and speaking fees — this is America, after all — but he likely also has some big legal bills to pay.
The bigger threat to Martin’s family would be Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, which wound up playing a small role in the criminal trial. Under the law, if Martin’s family sued, Zimmerman would be entitled to a hearing at which he would be given a chance to show that he used deadly force only because he was in reasonable fear of death or serious injury. He skipped that step before the criminal trial, but he would no doubt take it if he were sued. And if Zimmerman won his “Stand your ground” hearing, he would not only get the civil suit thrown out, but the law also says that whoever sued him would have to pay him attorneys fees, expenses and compensation for any loss of income resulting from the proceedings. That would be a bitter pill for the family to swallow: the man who shot their son to death beating the criminal charges, getting the civil lawsuit dismissed — and then presenting them with a bill.