Suing the Police in a Wrongful Death Case
Am I Given the Legal Right to Sue the Police for a Wrongful Death in California?
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, our qualified wrongful death attorneys at 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
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 peace 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 the 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 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.
West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help
If you have lost a loved one due to negligent actions committed by another party, our expert team of wrongful death attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers will help you recover compensation for damages you have suffered. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and more.
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