If you’re tuning in to the national news, then you’re aware that the issue of physical injuries by police officers has been front and center in recent weeks. While there are a lot of social issues being discussed across the country, the fact remains that people might be thinking more critically about encounters they’ve had with their local law enforcement.
To be clear, every profession includes people who are well-intentioned and who try to do their best every day. But there are also people in every profession who don’t follow the guidelines they’re provided and the training they’ve had — this includes lawyers, doctors, teachers, mail carriers, bus drivers, police officers, and anyone else you know who has a job.
A police officer’s job is to enforce laws and protect the public welfare, which is a huge responsibility. It also means that there are times when a police officer is acting in what they believe is appropriate for the situation, but someone still becomes injured.
In this post, we’ll discuss what legal rights you may have if you or a loved one were injured by a police officer.
What is excessive force?
Police officers may use the degree of force necessary to maintain control of an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or another person (or the public) from harm.
An officer’s use of force is considered excessive if the action taken is more than what’s necessary to maintain safety or control of an incident.
Within the level of physical force that a police officer is allowed to exert, they may not exert force without taking the physical safety of the individual into consideration. In other words, force can be used to subdue a person who is threatening harm or violence to a police officer or civilian, but only to the extent required to prevent that harm or violence. An officer can’t exert more force than necessary in a way that would cause injury.
This standard applies to any law enforcement officer, whether they’re a member of your local municipal police force, a county sheriff, FBI, or any other government-funded law enforcement agency.
Governmental immunity for police officers
You might know that government agencies are often shielded from lawsuits by sovereign immunity. This derives from an ancient English principle that “the monarch can do no wrong.” That’s not how it’s interpreted today, but it does allow states and the federal government some protection from tort lawsuits under certain circumstances.
Federal law (and several states) has enacted the Tort Claims Act, which permits an individual to sue a state or federal government if the person was harmed because of actions by an employee or agency who causes an injury while performing duties within the scope of their employment.
In many cases, this applies to accidental injuries — like a car accident with a police or government vehicle, a slip and fall injury on public property, or an injury caused by a first responder who works for a county medical unit.
This immunity might also apply to a personal injury that results from excessive force by a police officer.
If evidence proves that the injury is the direct result of a police officer’s excessive force, they are likely not protected by governmental (“qualified”) immunity. That means you could file a lawsuit against the police department and the officer, personally.
But if there are intervening factors, like the action of another person or your own actions, you’re less likely to have a case that overrides immunity.
Personal injury damages against police
If you were injured by a police officer’s misconduct, you might be able to claim damages from the department. These damages could include:
- Medical expenses for doctor or hospital visits, assistive devices, diagnostics, therapies, or other treatments related to the injury
- Recovered costs for lost wages if you missed time from work
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Punitive damages if the behavior was malicious or with reckless disregard for your well-being
How to prove negligence by a police officer
The standard for negligence against a police officer is the same as it would be against any other person, company, or agency.
You need to prove negligence by showing that the facts meet each of these elements:
- The officer owed you a duty of care. The officer almost always owes a duty of care because it’s their job to protect you from harm. The officer is obligated to respect your civil rights and avoid more than a reasonable amount of force.
- The officer breached their duty of care. A breach can be actions other than excessive force; it could be negligent failure to act, also. It could also be making an arrest without reasonable cause.
- The breach caused your injury.
- Your injury cost money.
How to sue a police officer or department
Each state has its own rules for how to file a lawsuit against a government agency or employee. Bear in mind that if you were subject to excessive force by a police officer, there might be both civil and criminal legal actions.
As a private citizen, you can’t charge a police officer (or anyone) with a crime — only law enforcement and prosecutors can do that. If an officer is charged with a crime based on your interactions with them, you might be called as a witness or asked to make a statement as evidence.
But it’s your decision whether or not to file a civil claim.
If you are considering a lawsuit, find out the statute of limitations for suing a government agency in your state. A statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a claim, and sometimes it’s different for a government than if you were suing a person or company.
Regardless, you’ll want the right attorney to handle your lawsuit. It won’t be easy, but many lawsuits against police officers or departments are able to reach a settlement because the department doesn’t want the negative publicity surrounding a trial.
The Enjuris law firm directory is one place to start looking for a lawyer in your state who can handle your case.
Michael Adkison says
I was body slammed on the concrete by a San Bernardino Sheriff on the front porch. They were there to see my landlord. I wasn’t the cause of why they were there, and hadn’t done anything wrong. They later apologized and I’m in excruciating pain. The actions of the officers were abusive, negligent, and unnecessary. The bruising of my shoulder is unbelievable.
Ian Pisarcik says
I’m so sorry this happened to you.
You may want to talk to an attorney about the incident, particularly if you think you may have suffered a long-term injury. Legal aid groups often help with this sort of incident for free.
James Moody says
Long story short I was woke up at 3 in the morning while sleeping in my vehicle on the side of the road near Gardner Lake was given the field sobriety test after they searched the vehicle I was in while I was asleep without permission. Then taking in on the DUI to the neighboring City Olathe Kansas then after extensive waking me up and questioning session and also forced to submit a urinalysis then I was once again woken up driven around the jail from the sally port to the front of the jail by the lobby was instructed that I was free to go. I asked I’m barefoot in that have no ride home can I call my wife he then told me that the lobby was closed and that that was not an option and I was still free to go all this was relate to me by my wife I have no memory of it who witnessed the officers entire body cam footage of the incident. I then proceeded to walk across the street and get into a vehicle I recall my wife saying that I was shaking uncontrollably like I was very cold then found keys in the vehicle and drove away to find a house that was vacant where I went in assuming I went in to go to sleep because there was a for rent sign in the yard. I was arrested again 45 minutes after the first arrest with five new felony charges. This all happened in 2017 and after that incident I went through 13 months of incarceration and treatment. I was not initially charged with the DUI however 3 years later I get charged with that DUI and I’ve already served that 13 months and then the treatment and then they give me the DUI from three years back and that violates my probation and it looks like a new charge. That was last year. I moved out of Olathe into Baldwin City which is another County because I felt like I was being profiled. I honestly think that my attorney which is court appointed has been giving me the wrong advice to benefit the state and their conviction rates. This is only after years and years of him determining what my outcome of each case was going to be. For some reason they say that there’s a conflict of interest in the public defender’s office so I get him every time since 2014 and he has been aware of many times that my rights were violated and that proper procedures were not followed. Evidence that would exonerate me were not reported to the prosecutor’s office as directed by my family members for several weeks on a separate in incident I set for 5 weeks in county jail with all evidence proving my innocence ignored the only thing that Set Me Free was the manager of the store review the video footage went to the prosecutor’s office with evidence that was ignored by my attorney and that set me free but that’s just one instance there have been many I would like to talk more. Bottom line is that I was woken up and put in a situation out of my control that was risk or liability not only to myself but to the public as well and should have been seen by a medical professional instead of released and denied my phone call. I have the papers that were filed a complaint with the county and the officers were found guilty and reprimanded volume formula for violating my civil rights and releasing me while intoxicated on my own accord with no supervising adult present or contacted as I suggested and it’s all on camera. I think all the charges that happened after the cop released me should be dropped off my record and I think that I should have financial compensation for all the time out of work and away from my family creating more of a mess to try to get out of. I suffer from mental illness that was not apparent before this issue. Our van was impounded we lost it they did not call her even though they suspected it being stolen. I was on probation at the time I picked up the new felonies for my first and only possession charge. So I was special roll they sent me to Therapeutic Community with his six months inpatient treatment and cognitive behavior therapy afternoon 9 months in County Jail awaiting disposition. Then I stipulated I had to go to an Oxford House after my incarceration and treatment since then it’s just been a nightmare of trying to establish some sort of familiarity with someone who cares or person that is in this for my best interest. I have already done a year more than I am supposed to on my 2014 case that I’m still on probation for and I am already at least 6 months over on the obstruction charge which on paper shows a year-and-a-half back up but under the sentencing grid only carries I think 11 months in my level of severity. And now the probation department is really trying to make things even more complicated and I’m fed up. Please help I have all the documentation and proof needed the back up my unfortunate story.
Andrew shep says
Ok I got a question
So when I was like 12 13 I was riding a dirtbike around my town I ended up getting chased by the police
So I was comeing upto a alleyway trying to get away from the police right behind me so I had him beeping his horn flashing high beams getting pretty close to me
yes its his job to stop me but i ended up panicking and I crashed into a wooden pole
Did a front flip and landed on my knees I got up ran for abit but ended up getting caught
So I need a lawyers advise
So I’m 22 now an im starting to get problems with one of my knees witch was cause by the accident
But at the time
But when I was 13 12 I was like just some rooks in my knees ill be alright but has really started to catch up with me as I’ve grown obviously
I haven’t gone to doctors about it yet but I reckon I’ll be needing to because it’s starting hert pretty bad while I’m walking
So I’m ask Can I sue the police if I get medical bills to work on my knee
An also if I would get a compusation for pain an suffering as im in pain an all the suffering that I will probably be doing getting my knee fixed
I live in Australia
State of NM, city of Albuquerque. A State Deputy was watching a Club where I was playing in a band. This is in the city not the jurisdiction of the state. He watched me drive off. He followed me more than a mile, I could not see the SUV police markings. He decided to stop me, I pulled over into a lot.. He took his flash light searching back of my auto, came to my passenger window, banged metal flashlight on my glass window, startled me. He put the bright light facing my face that blinded me,, could not see. He came to driver side. He told me he stopped me because I didn’t come to a complete stop leaving the clubs lot. He did not look like a police.. I said That’s a Lie, I’m calling dispatcher. He was asking for my license. I said No, I did nothing wrong, as I’m calling dispatcher. I was on phone with dispatcher for help, to send someone out. Officer got mad as hell, He opened my car door got in my car, tried to take keys out of ignition. I got a hold of my keys as I’m holding phone. He jerked, yanked me out of car, grabbed my keys, slammed me around, injured my knee bone have scars,, bloody elbow, scarred, Both shoulders injured, 4 tears in left shoulder, can’t lay on it to this day. 1 tear in right shoulder, Neck was effected by his knee on my neck using force on shoulders., bump on forehead. Pain and suffering, Scalp in pain from grabbing hair & pulled on it,, still in pain 24/7. Have ptsd. He Jerked phone out of hand while screaming to dispatcher to help, he threw it across rd, broke it, torn my pants, ruined my cashmere sweater. NOW there’s a mediation after they appealed first hand. Having issues with my lawyers now after apparently lied to me in past about how much to settle for a amount they never discussed with me first.. First time they asked court officials for 750,000. I told them I was upset they haven’t disciss this with me. Then they said it can be changed. NOW for mediation coming up they denied it, telling me they did discuss it with me. I told them it’s to be changed higher…Now they say it can’t be reversed. I know darn well it can because medical issues has come up caused by abuse. It’s been 3 years since incident. The lawyers really expect me to take whatever low offer the DA makes….They are playing games. My lawyers did NOT have much to do on this case BECAUSE There’s too much Evidence that shows officer was completely in the wrong & found to be a liar. Video shown, 2 witnesses in a auto that called 911, 2 dispatchers listening to me & to what’s going on. Medical records which by the way are state government doctors that are no expert on the MRIs & put on record of things I never quoted etc….and didn’t put on record I did quote….Lawyers get 30% leaves me less than what I deserve. I found by research 1 Injured shoulder without pain & suffering, without loss of income, not able to work again, not able to be active in life anymore, etc… is 750,000 & they want me to settle for less. I think I should refuse & take it to court against him. Lawyers suing not only cop but his boss & his boss boss. And they want me to settle for less if DA don’t accept their offer. It should been my offer. My offer would been 1 million because I need real Doctors, Need Hypnosis for panic & anxiety attacks when I see cop cars and ppl in cop looking uniforms & cops in their uniforms. I don’t know what steps I can take or do to report this officer that should be off the force, sue for what I deserve? Legally, what else can I do? Feedback is appreciated
Melissa Gold says
Hello, Sunshine. I am so sorry to hear what you’ve been through. There’s a lot here and it’s hard to gauge what your legal recourse would be, especially since it sounds like it was several years ago. You mentioned 3 years, which is the statute of limitations for a New Mexico personal injury lawsuit. In other words, the court will not hear a case filed more than 3 years from the date of the injury. You also have said you’re working with a lawyer already, which would be what I’d have suggested. Yes, most personal injury lawyers make about 30% of whatever damages you recover — and they need to because they have to make money for doing their work. But there are some lower-cost alternatives, like contacting your state or local bar association, which might have some additional resources.
It sounds like you’re searching for some more options (understandably) related to this incident, but if you’re already working with a competent lawyer, that might still be your best bet. It’s hard to know exactly what’s what, but I encourage you to reach out to your state bar association if you need additional guidance. If you believe you need a different lawyer, you can use the no-cost Enjuris law firm directory to find someone who might be able to help.