Police officers are highly respected by most people because of the risks and liabilities they often face while protecting their communities and enforcing the law. However, policemen and women are ultimately human, which means they sometimes make mistakes; everyone knows this. In these cases, officers are typically investigated for misconduct. What most people don’t know is whether or not police officers can be sued personally for wrongful actions. Here is a close look at this subject.
Reasons For Suing The Police
Under federal law, police officers may be sued both personally and professionally (in a state or federal court). A civilian may file a lawsuit against a police officer for various reasons, including:
- Infliction of emotional distress: When an officer purposely or recklessly behaves in a way that causes either emotional injury or distress through a negligent act.
- Excessive force: When an officer uses deadly force (resulting in severe bodily harm) in a situation that does not justify it.
In civil suits such as these, the burden of proof typically falls on the plaintiff, who must prove liability by a “preponderance of the evidence” (i.e. the defendant is more likely guilty than not). This is a significantly lower standard than the one for criminal cases (“beyond a reasonable doubt).
There are two types of claims one can file against a police officer in a personal capacity:
Bystander Liability: the plaintiff must demonstrate that the officer either a) knew that a fellow policeman was violating the plaintiff’s constitutional rights; b) had a reasonable chance to prevent the harm; or c) decided not to act.
Supervisor Liability: This liability requires that a supervisor had knowledge that a subordinate officer displayed conduct that posed an unreasonable risk of constitutional injury to citizens.
Obstacles To Suing Police Officers
One of the primary challenges a citizen can face when suing the police is immunity. Many states have laws that offer immunity to public employees who perform certain duties, such as making an arrest. However, in some states, immunity does not apply when an officer utilizes excessive force or otherwise acts outside the scope of his responsibilities. Additionally, Section 1983 of Chapter 42 of the U.S. Code dictates that police officers have qualified immunity. This essentially protects police against lawsuits for civil rights violations as long as the official’s behavior did not violate a clearly established right. The 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution also says that states are immune from lawsuits by private citizens in federal court.
Statutes of Limitations For Lawsuits Against Police Officers
Section 1983 does not include a specific statute of limitations, which is the maximum amount of time that an injured party in a dispute has to take legal action. Therefore, the state where a case occurs will typically use its own statute of limitations for tort cases involving negligent actions and wrongful death. The majority of these cases carry a statute of limitations of between two and seven years. A lawyer who specializes in police brutality cases can assist you if you are involved in such an incident.
Types Of Damages Officers Can Be Sued For
There are four types of relief a plaintiff may sue a police officer for:
- Compensatory damages
- Punitive damages
- Injunctive relief: An alternative to offering money as payment for a wrongful action, an injunction is a court order for the defendant to stop a specific action.
- Declaratory relief: This is a binding judgement from a court that defines the legal relationship between parties and their rights in the case before the court. Declaratory relief does not require any type of enforcement.
Speak To The Police Protective Liability Insurance Experts
Reach out to the experts at John M. Glover Insurance Agency for more information on personally suing police officers. Since our founding in 1916, we have been dedicated to serving the insurance needs of clients throughout Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. As an independent agency, we work closely with several insurers that have proven their stability and reliability over the years.
At JMG, we understand that enforcing the law and protecting the public is risky. Therefore, we provide police officers and other law enforcement officials with protective liability insurance. This type of policy covers damages resulting from property damage, bodily injury, or personal injury arising from a “wrongful act.” In the event a lawsuit is brought against an officer, this policy will also help cover the associated legal fees. We offer policies providing $100,000 and $250,000 in coverage.
Call JMG Insurance Agency today at (844) 304-7332 or contact us online to learn more about our policies.