There's been a lot of media attention in the last few years surrounding police-involved shootings. In some cases, they've been justified. In others, the reasons the officers drew their guns or fired are questionable at best. In many of those instances, wrongful death lawsuits end up being filed by the families of victims.
If one of your close relatives is involved in an officer-involved shooting and dies, this is what you need to know.
The Circumstances of the Shooting Matter Greatly
One of the first things that you have to examine in an officer-involved shooting is whether or not the police acted negligently.
Ask yourself two questions. First, did the officers respond to the situation at hand the way that a reasonable person would have responded? Second, did the officers violate the law in some way? Those are critical questions because negligence can be defined as either a disregard for the law or a failure to act the way that a reasonable person would under the circumstances. In addition, an officer who violates the law may end up being charged criminally for his or her actions.
What sort of action is defined as unreasonable? For example, take the recent verdict by an Illinois Appeals Court in the wrongful death of a Chicago teenager. The court reinstated a 3.5 million dollar verdict in a case where an officer shot the teen during a struggle outside a party. The force he used -- his gun -- was considered excessive for the situation since the suspect had already been tasered before the officer fired three rounds into the teen's chest -- at least one of which was done at point-blank range, the muzzle of his gun on the victim's chest as he lay on the ground.
It's important to remember that the victim of a wrongful death doesn't have to be innocent of all crimes to still be the victim of an aggressive -- and unnecessary -- police response.
Qualified Immunity May Protect an Officer
In many jurisdictions, qualified immunity will insulate officers -- and their departments -- against wrongful death charges unless the officer acted outside of either the department's official policy or established law. If someone is killed after a police officer takes all the steps he or she should have, according to the way that he or she was trained, it will often negate any wrongful death claim.
It isn't easy for a layperson to determine whether or not a wrongful death claim is viable. It often takes a specialized investigation into the reports of the officers involved, the department's internal reports, and the recollection of witnesses to the event in order to determine whether or not a wrongful death claim is likely to succeed.
Because of this, it's important to discuss any wrongful death claim with a lawyer who has experience handling these sorts of claims.Share