Criminal Law

Robber Sues the Store He Robbed

It sounds like a joke: A man walks into a store and robs it. The store’s employees fight back against the armed robber, chasing and shooting him. The man goes to jail for the robbery and then sues the store and employees for beating him up!

Unfortunately, this isn't a joke.

The Robbery

In November 2007, Scott T. Zielinski entered Nick’s Party Stop in Clinton Township, Michigan. With a knife, he threatened to kill the store’s employees. He stole cigarettes, alcohol and $873 in cash.

Zielinski ran out of the store, and was chased by a store employee and shot him with a .357 Magnum. The store employees proceeded to beat Zelinski until the police arrived.

The Lawsuit

Zielinski, 23, had a prior armed robbery conviction for robbing a bank and was sentenced to one year and seven months in prison. for this crime, he agreed to plead to an unarmed robbery, and is serving an 8-year sentence.

In April 2009, he filed a lawsuit against the store, the store owner and its employees seeing $125,000, claiming that he was beaten excessively.

Can A Robber Sue?

While the case ended up getting dismissed, it wasn’t because of the absurd claim. The Judge, David Viviano allowed the case to proceed, however, he required that Zielinski post a $10,000 bond.

Why Post a Bond?

Requiring the posting of a bond is rare for a civil case. However, where a felon sues for injuries received during his crime, the judge can require it. This is one of the few cases where the accused can win legal fees to be paid out of the bond.

The purpose of the bond is to cover the store and employees' attorney's fees if he loses the case.

According to Zielinski’s affidavit, he couldn’t pay this bond and claims to have no assets. On December 5, the Judge dismissed the case.

Does This Make Sense? What About Self-Defense?

Bond or no bond, it seems strange that a robber can sue after being injured from his own robbery. Also, if someone is robbed or attacked they should be allowed to defend themselves.

While the law allows for self-defense, reasonable force must be used. Zielinski’s lawyer explained the store employees used excessive and unreasonable force against him. "We don't live in a country with vigilante justice. We don't live in the Wild West. We live in the United States with a justice system. Whatever you think about Scott Zielinski, he's already serving his time," she said. "As a society, we can't get more justice than the legal system allows."[1]

Zielinski’s suffered a cracked sternum, collapsed lung, fractured ribs, and has loss of movement and grip in his left hand, where he also suffers from a burning and numbing sensation.

The Response

After the dismissal, attorneys for the store were happy; "It took more time and arguing than it should have, but we're happy with the judge's ruling," said Tom Peters, a lawyer for the party's store's insurance company, which he said agreed to pick up the legal fees estimated to be between $5,000 and $7,500.[2]

Lessons to be learned: If you sue the people you robbed, make sure you have enough funds to be able to overcome the legal hurdles. If you’re being robbed, be careful not to use too much force, or you may also have to defend yourself in court.

Question For Your Attorney

  • Is there any way that I can post a bond if I don't have the money right now?
  • What is reasonable force? And how can I defend myself by using reasonable force?
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