NOTE: IMPORTANT UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST!
A few caveats before I get to the meat of this topic.
First, we’re currently only hearing one side of this story, and that’s the side of the party suing USCCA (actually, they’re suing parent company Delta Defense, but given the nature of the relationship between the companies and the greater brand awareness of USCCA, I’ll refer to the defending party as USCCA for purposes of simplicity).
It’s quite possible that USCCA has a perfectly valid explanation that explains away what certainly appears to be a bad situation. I’ve reached out to them directly, and hope to hear from them soon. Once I do, I’ll promptly share their comment here on the blog, and update this post with a link to that comment.
Second, in the interests of full disclosure: I’ve previously been professionally partnered with USCCA, and that partnering did not work out well from my personal perspective. Ultimately, I resigned from their Legal Advisory Board, on which I had been a founding member, and ceased engaging in partnering actives with USCCA. Indeed, I am currently partnered with one of their leading competitors, CCW Safe.
That said, since resigning from the USCCA Legal Advisory Board I have more than once consulted on self-defense cases involving their members, and have been promptly compensated by USCCA for those legal services. My professional experience doing those legal consults for USCCA was excellent. In those cases, to my knowledge USCCA met every obligation, promptly and without hesitation.
Further, even after my split from USCCA’s Legal Advisory Board I have nevertheless consistently recommended USCCA as one of the “self-defense insurance” companies that folks interested in such coverage ought to consider. In short, despite my own personal differences with the company, I still considered them to be a sufficiently viable competitor in the “self-defense insurance” market that they were worthy of consideration by my clients and others. (USCCA also continues to sell a licensed copy of my book, “The Law of Self Defense,” by permission.)
With that out of the way, the focus of this blog post is on a Federal lawsuit just filed against USCCA for an alleged failure to meet their obligations to one Kayla Giles, who claims to be a USCCA Elite member [note that Giles’ Federal complaint identifies her as a “Platinum member; the level of coverage sought by Giles, however, appears more consistent with her being an Elite member. The distinction, however, is unimportant to the relevant issues in this case].
This was first brought to my attention when I was sent a news story on the lawsuit, “Kayla Giles files lawsuit over halted payments on self-defense policy.” Most of you know what I think of “journalism” (not much), so I don’t really consider that news story much of foundation for any kind of substantive understanding of the situation.
We also, however, have access to the actual complaint filed int he US District Court in Lousiana. I’ve embedded that complaint at the bottom of this post. It’s important to not that the complaint is very much still only one side of the story. That said, it’s unlikely to be an utter fabrication without basis in fact, because of the rather severe sanctions a lawyer is subject to for filing a genuinely frivolous complaint in Federal court—specifically, a fine of up to $25,000 under 26 U.S.C. § 6673(a)(1). That’s on top of state bar sanctions for frivolous practice of law.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, because frivolous suits do still occur, but it suggests that it’s unlikely that the lawsuit is entirely without foundation (e.g., unlikely that Giles is lying outright about being a USCCA member).
The essential factual claim of the complaint are that Kayla Giles, who shot and killed her estranged husband in claimed self-defense, was a paid-up USCCA Elite member at the time of that event. She was charged with second-degree murder for the killing of her husband, raised the legal defense of self-defense, and turned to USCCA for payment of her legal expenses under the terms of her Elite membership.
As an Elite member, she claims the right to legal compensation for criminal defense costs up to $150,000. Giles claims that although USCCA paid the first $50,000 of legal expenses, “they have thereafter refused further payment, despite amicable demand that they do so.” As a result, she’s now suing for the $100,000 remainder.
I’ll take a moment to pause here and point out that the complaint also notes:
Kayla J. Giles has incurred fees and expenses in excess of the amount of the ‘criminal defense’ limits of the policy.
Why am I pointing that out? Because the criminal defense limit of the policy is $150,000, and Giles has apparently already exceeded $150,000 in criminal defense legal expenses.
AND THAT’S BEFORE EVEN GETTING TO TRIAL. Her trial on charges of second-degree murder doesn’t begin until May 2020, more than six months from now.
That means the maximum coverage provided to her by USCCA as a Elite member isn’t even enough to get her within 6 MONTHS of her trial, much less cover the trial itself.
Those of you who have been around the Law of Self Defense community for a while will know that this is a point I hit on all the time, good and hard—if you’re charged in a killing case, meaning murder or manslaughter, your legal defense will easily run deep into the mid-six figures, and perhaps much higher.
One of the reasons I’m currently partnered with legal service coverage provider CCW Safe (again, a competitor to USCCA) is that they place no cap whatever on the legal expenses they will cover for a legal defense of self-defense—including no cap on any appeals of a conviction in such a case.
If you’re considering two vehicles to take you on a 100-mile journey, and one of them guarantees you all the gas you need to complete the trip, and the other one only guarantees you a fraction of the fuel you’ll need—which one do you pick, all other factors being equal?
As mentioned in the promo at the start of this blog post, those of you interested in learning more about the “no limits” coverage of CCW Safe can do so by pointing your browser to:
Even better, if you decide that CCW Safe is the right fit for you, you can save 10% on your CCW Safe membership by using the discount code LOSD at checkout when you sign up.
OK, back to the Giles lawsuit.
As previously noted, we’re currently hearing only one side of the story, and I look forward to receiving USCCA’s response to my outreach to them, which again I’ll share here on this blog.
That said, it’s hard to imagine what the explanation for these claims would be, at least explanations that would be consistent with a “self-defense insurance” offering that I could recommend to clients and members of the Law of Self Defense community.
Was Giles not actually an Elite member? Was she never actually signed up, or had she failed to meet her payment obligations and defaulted on her membership? If so, that’s a perfectly valid reason to not cover her legal expenses. But if that were the case, why cover the first $50,000 at all, as Giles claims they did?
Has Giles conceded criminal guilt in the shooting, meaning pleading guilty to the second-degree murder charge or pleading out to some lesser charge? That would also be a perfectly valid reason to not continue covering her legal expenses. But if that were the case, Giles would not have a trial date set for May 2020. A person who has already pleaded guilty does not need a trial date.
Was Giles in violation of some other facet of the USCCA terms of coverage when she used her gun in self-defense? I’m not going to step through the USCCA contractual language in this blog post, so perhaps that’s what has triggered USCCA’s claimed refusal to continue covering her legal expenses. If so, I would expect USCCA to announce that reason publicly.
Why would they announce an explanation under these circumstances?
Because if they don’t explain what’s going on in a manner consistent with being a “self-defense insurance” provider on whom members can rely for coverage of the legal expenses, they run the risk of being perceived as a provider upon whom members cannot rely.
And an unreliable “self-defense insurance” provider is unlikely to be a viable business model.
I want to make explicit that I’m not talking about whether USCCA is actually unreliable in this regard—we don’t yet have the facts to make any such assessment with any confidence, at least not until USCCA has had a reasonable opportunity to tell their side of the story.
Rather, I’m merely talking about market perception of USCCA’s reliability in this regard.
The complaint by Giles, which is again embedded below, was filed on October 2, 2019, a full three weeks ago, which ought to have been plenty of time for USCCA to formulate a confidence-inspiring explanation of their side of the story.
A review moments ago of their “USCCA Press Room” web page, however, reveals that their last post there was on October 3, 2019, the day after the complaint was filed.
That this was the date of their last post there might be a coincidence—it appears they only posted on that page every month or so. It would seem that if they intended to provide a public response to the Giles lawsuit, however, that they would have done so by now, and done so on their “Press Room” web page.
One possibility that comes to mind is that USCCA chosen to adopt (perhaps without formal notice?) a policy of “we’ll cover members’ self-defense legal expenses … but only if WE think it looks like self-defense. If, on the other hand, WE think it looks like not self-defense, we’ll decline to cover.”
Now, in one sense, there’s nothing whatever wrong with this business model for a “self-defense insurance” provider. Indeed, one of the most respected providers of such services, the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, takes precisely that approach. When an ACLDN member is in a use-of-force event and seeks access to the ACLDN legal defense fund, their request is first reviewed by the ACLDN Board. If it looks like lawful self-defense to them, access to the legal funds is granted. If it does not look like lawful self-defense to the Board, however, ACLDN reserves the right to deny access to those legal funds.
There are two characteristics of the ACLDN approach, however, that make such an approach by ACLDN viable:
First, they tell you that any request for legal funds is subject to ACLDN Board approval before you ever become a member. Therefore you’re aware that Board approval is required for coverage of any particular use-of-force event, and also aware that such coverage may be denied, at the Board’s discretion. In other words, the contingency is made clear up front, rather than used to ambush a member after the fact.
Second, the ACLDN Board is unquestionably a genuinely remarkable people who are unusually well-qualified to make such an assessment. The current ACLDN web site lists their board members as including:
- Massad Ayoob
- John Farnam
- Tom Givens
- Dennis Tueller
- and others whom ACLDN presumably considers similarly qualified. Yes, THAT Ayoob, THAT Farnam, THAT Givens, and THAT Tueller.
I can imagine USCCA reasonably adopting a similar “Board-approval required for benefits” approach, but ONLY if they met similar conditions. That is, first, that this condition of coverage was explicit—“we’ll cover you if WE think it was self-defense” and, second, if they had a similarly capable Board making that decision.
To my knowledge, neither of those conditions are true of USCCA.
Absent prior notification of a “benefits only if it looks like self-defense to US” condition of benefits, and a Board qualified to make such an assessment, any “self-defense insurance” provider who imposes such conditions after that fact must be considered unfit for it stated purpose.
After all, in EVERY case of self-defense in which legal expenses are being incurred at all there are TWO sides to the self-defense story. ALWAYS. The defendant is making a claim of self-defense. The prosecution is claiming they can overcome self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The issue is in dispute. If it weren’t in dispute, there wouldn’t be criminal charges, and there would be no legal expenses to be covered.
So, ANY time a “self-defense insurance” provider is being asked to cover a member making a claim for self-defense insurance costs it means that it is not 100% certain that the use-of-force was actually, legally, self-defense. ANY time a request for coverage is made there is some greater than 0% chance that the use of force was NOT self-defense. The question then becomes: WHO DECIDES?
Under our procedures of criminal justice, legally speaking it is a JURY that makes the ultimate call on whether the use-of-force was lawful self-defense or criminal conduct. Until the JURY has made that decision, we just don’t know, in any legally meaningful sense, whether it was self-defense or not.
The jury, of course, is responding to the competing arguments being made by the defense and the prosecution—the legal battle that’s being waged in the courtroom. Indeed, that is ALL the allowed to consider in arriving at a verdict—the legal arguments and evidence presented to them in the courtroom.
The whole point of having “self-defense insurance” in the first place is to enable the defendant, the person who claims to have acted in self-defense but who is being put to the legal test by the state, to have the resources necessary to wage their side of the legal battle effectively. As already noted, if faced with a killing charge the legal defense costs can easily soar into the mid-six figures, and perhaps much higher. The state prosecutors have essentially unlimited resources to bring to the fight, and unless the defense can match those they are likely to be overwhelmed.
Most of us don’t have a paper bag with half-a-million dollars in it sitting around in case we have to defend ourselves against a criminal attack and find ourselves charged with murder. That’s precisely why legal service coverage providers like USCCA, CCW Safe, ACLDN and others exist in the first place—to provide those legal defense resources to their members when needed.
If, however, the “self-defense insurance” provider you’ve spent years paying reserves to right to DECLINE to cover you, at THEIR discretion, in the ABSENCE of any apparent qualifications to make such an assessment, and even worse WITHOUT prior notice to their members that they intend reserve the option to apply this condition, ambush-style— well, then what the heck have you been paying for all those years?
I feel again obliged to point out that I’m speaking here in the hypothetical—we don’t know whether any of the above accurately describes the conduct of USCCA in this case, because we’ve only heard one side of the Giles story. We don’t know if USCCA has, in fact, denied benefits to Giles, we don’t know, in fact, whether Giles was entitled to benefits in the first place, we don’t know if USCCA might have some other explanation for what’s going on. So none of the above is intended to characterize USCCA—we just don’t know.
I’m merely saying that any “self-defense insurance” provider that’s going to retroactively impose a “we’ll cover you if WE think it’s self-defense” condition on benefits, without prior notice, and in the absence of any apparent qualifications to make such an assessment, is not a provider that I would be comfortable recommending to clients, friends, family, or anyone in the Law of Self Defense community.
I’ll keep my eyes open for further developments on this story, and particularly for any response from USCCA, either generally or directly in response to my request for comment. If anything new develops, I’ll comment on it separately, and particularly if USCCA provides a substantive response, I’ll add a link in this post to that response.
You may also be interested in these related posts:
Self-defense, or not? Who decides? [October 25, 2019]
You might also be interested in these “self-defense insurance” analysis by another attorney not associated with Law of Self Defense LLC, Ryan Cleckner:
BEST CONCEALED CARRY INSURANCE : WRITTEN BY A LAWYER! [March 10, 2021]
You carry a gun so you’re hard to kill.
Know the law so you’re hard to convict.
UPDATE: I just received a reply to my inquiry to USCCA about this matter, from Brian Walsh, who is listed on the USCCA press page as their media contact:
“As I’m sure you can appreciate though the USCCA isn’t in a position to comment on ongoing litigation. Will keep you posted if that changes though. Thanks.” –BW
There is, of course, no law against USCCA commenting on a matter in litigation. Generally the defendant to a lawsuit doesn’t want to comment if the truthful comments that they could make would not be helpful to them.
“We deny all allegations of having failed to meet our legal obligations to this member, and will demonstrate so at trial” would be a perfectly fine response, if USCCA wished to make such a response.
My commentary above was explicitly caveated on the fact that we’d only heard one side of the story. USCCA has now been given the opportunity to present their side, and has declined. As reasonable consumers, therefore, and in my case, advisors, one can only rely upon the evidence presented–and the evidence presented is not favorable to USCCA.
Until USCCA has reasonably explained away the accusations of failure to meet their legal obligations to a member that have been made against them in Federal Court, I’m obliged to withdraw all prior recommendations to the Law of Self Defense community to consider them as a viable “self-defense insurance” option.
This will remain the case even if Kayla Giles should ultimately be found guilty of murdering her estranged husband, for two reasons.
First, it couldn’t be known at the time the benefits were denied that this would be the legal outcome. If USCCA intended to be a “reimbursement program IF you’re acquitted” like the defunct NRA Carry Guard program, they had an obligation to inform the public of that fact.
Second, if Kiles is convicted maybe she’ll have been convicted in large part BECAUSE she was denied her member benefits by USCCA, and therefore lacked the resources to mount an effective defense–precisely the resources USCCA was supposed to have provided her as a member. If that occurs, one might argue that they are themselves culpable in the conviction of one of their members of murder.
Again, if there were a reasonable basis for USCCA not providing Giles with the legal resources a member is entitled to–for example, “Hey, she’s not a member, she stopped making payments a year before the shooting!”–there’s nothing to prevent USCCA from saying so.
Instead, we–and by extension every current and prospective USCCA member–just got a big “NO COMMENT.”
If you want to pay your money into THAT, it’s a free country. Personally, I expect more from my “self-defense insurance” provider.
As promised, here’s the civil complaint filed by Giles against USCCA in Federal District Court in Louisiana: