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When protesters take to the streets to have their voices heard, drivers that get stuck in traffic often suffer the consequences. While most drivers are simply made late getting to and from where they need to be, drivers that get caught in the thick of a march or protest face a much scarier situation.
In most states, even when protestors are illegally marching in the street, if a driver hits a protester, they could face both civil and potentially criminal legal liability. However, in states like North Dakota and Tennessee, legislatures are trying to pass laws that would provide limited civil and criminal immunity to drivers that injure protesters who are obstructing traffic.
Criminal Intent and Self-Defense
While rare, occasionally there are news stories about protesters that have been injured or even killed as a result of a driver who got scared and tried to speed away from a group of marching protesters.
Under most states' laws, if you injure a person with your car, even unintentionally, there could be criminal penalties, on top of civil liability for the injuries. However, so long as a driver did not intend to cause harm (i.e. it was an accident that a protester got hit), the criminal penalties and civil liability will not be as harsh.
If a driver is trying to escape a group of protesters that are harassing the driver, such as by blocking or pounding on the car, that driver might have a valid self-defense argument if they injure protesters while trying to get away. However, self-defense is something that every state handles differently. Additionally, it is a defense to criminal charges meaning that after being charged with a crime, a defendant must prove they are innocent by way of having acted in self defense.
Even if a driver is found not to be criminally liable for causing injury to protesters they hit with their car, they can still be found civilly liable. This is because there are different standards of proof in criminal and civil cases.