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All About Suing the Police in a Wrongful Death Case

Police officers have a legal duty to serve and protect the members of their community. Unfortunately, police officers often find themselves in dangerous situations and have seconds to decide whether or not their lives are in danger. They also have a split-second to determine if they must use deadly force.


It goes without saying that there is so much that can go wrong in the heat of the moment. However, if a police officer was guilty of malice or neglect and caused a wrongful death, the surviving family members may be entitled to file a claim on behalf of their loved one.

Below, our experienced wrongful death attorneys will discuss wrongful death claims that involve the police. If you have lost a loved one at the hands of the police, West Coast Trial Lawyers are always here to answer any questions you may have about wrongful death claims and available damages you may be entitled to.

An Overview of Wrongful Death Claims Involving the Police

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

In general, anytime an individual is killed because of someone else’s negligence or deliberate acts of malice, the decedent’s surviving family members are entitled to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages. This also applies to police officers. Damages in a wrongful death claim are meant to compensate surviving family members for the loss of tangible and intangible forms of support they reasonably should have expected to receive had the victim not lost his or her life.

Wrongful death claims against the police are often fought tooth and tail, yet sometimes are settled quickly in order to avoid bad publicity. Wrongful death claims will usually be filed against the city where the police department responsible for the death is located.

Some cities will attempt to invoke immunity from legal action. This means that if an officer who killed someone was using appropriate techniques, he or she may be immune to a wrongful death claim. Please consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to determine whether or not you are entitled to file a wrongful death claim against a specific police department.

State or Federal

A wrongful death claim may be filed either on the state or federal level, or both, against an officer who acted with negligence or malice. It depends on the circumstances. The claim can also be brought at the federal level if it can be proven that an aggrieved individual’s civil rights were violated.

Wrongful Death Claims in Federal Court

According to federal law (42 U.S.C. § 1983), any police officers who subject a U.S. resident to “the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” can be held liable for any losses caused.

This means that police officers are allowed to use force that is appropriate to the circumstances of a specific moment. Determining what is appropriate force is challenging. In other words, did a police officer respond appropriately given a perceived threat, or did he or she use excessive force given the circumstances?

An example would be of a child who is holding a toy gun that looks similar to an actual gun. Obviously, that toy gun is not a threat to anyone, but an officer may think it’s a real gun and demand that the child place their hands up. This method is typically used to safely determine whether or not the item the child is carrying poses as a threat to the public. Unfortunately, in other cases, police officers have used excessive force on children by shooting at them immediately after they see the toy gun in their hands.

Damages for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Damages after a wrongful death claim involving the police will vary. For example, according to the Washington Post, settlements vary anywhere from $7,500 to $8.5 million. The median was reported as $1.2 million. This news report further stated that families collected greater damages by foregoing a trial and settling. Finally, very few cases have ever been brought against individual police officers.

Available Damages

Accidents happen. If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Below is a brief explanation of damages. Damages are a type of monetary award that is determined by a court of law to help compensate an aggrieved individual for any losses or injuries sustained as a result of someone’s negligence.

Economic Damages
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses that a dollar amount can readily be attached to. Economic damages are calculated by determining the amount of out-of-pocket losses an aggrieved individual has or will expect to incur as a result of their injuries.

A few examples of economic losses include:

  • Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages

Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out-of-pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Punitive Damages

The third type of damages a California court may award are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended as punishment and are only awarded when a defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. Punitive damages are relatively rare and in fact were only incorporated in 5 percent of all verdicts.

Furthermore, there is no real set standard for calculating and awarding punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion and will vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case.

Limitations for Damages in California 
For the most part, there is no real cap on compensatory damages following a personal injury claim. This means that courts are able to award any amount they feel is appropriate and reasonable.

However, the only exception is regarding medical malpractice cases. In these cases, the limit for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses is $250,000.

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or deliberate acts of malice of a police officer, West Coast Trial Lawyers has skilled attorneys that have background experience with handling cases relating to wrongful death. Our attorneys will help you get financial and emotional compensation for the losses you have suffered after losing your friend or family member. This includes, but is not limited to, medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation at our firm. No fees are charged until we win your case. Reach out to our friendly legal team 24/7 by calling (213) 927-3700 or emailing [email protected].


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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