Excessive use of force lawsuits against the police

There's been a lot of news over the last few years suggesting that police officers often use too much force when dealing with the public. The result has spurred on movements like "Black Lives Matter," led to officers being put on trial for murder and evolved into numerous excessive use of force lawsuits.

What exactly is excessive force?

When an officer responds to a potential emergency or crime scene, he or she is given the authority to act with a certain amount of force. Force is often necessary in order for an officer to do his or her job.

The law recognizes this reality by giving police officers qualified immunity against lawsuit and prosecution. However, police officers are only allowed to use the amount of force that's reasonable for a given situation.

That often makes the line between what's acceptable and what's excessive both a matter of degree and a matter for the courts. Juries are usually called on to decide if an incident of force is excessive or not. When someone dies as a result of a police action, that's often when a case ends up in a personal injury lawsuit.

An excessive force claim can involve a variety of issues, including:

  • Negligence
  • Recklessness and a disregard for the safety of others
  • Denying a prisoner needed medical care
  • Failure to use clearly defined policy procedures before resorting to force
  • A lack of proper training
  • Battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Wrongful death

One lawsuit may actually bring up several issues that each have to be addressed. The jury will look at the circumstances surrounding the entire police action and try to determine if the officer responded the same way that any reasonable officer would have in a similar situation.

The compensation from a use of excessive force or wrongful death claim can help victims or their families find a firm financial footing to move forward. They also serve as the motivation for change in police departments. In order to avoid repeat lawsuit, departments everywhere are acting to remove officers who don't know how to behave when on duty -- before they hurt someone else.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death by Police," accessed March 08, 2018

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