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Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit if a Loved One is Shot and Killed by a Police Officer?

On Behalf of Rush Injury Law

The police have a sworn duty to protect the people in their communities. This is why it is so devastating when families lose their loved ones at the hands of the police. Dealing with such loss entails unimaginable pain, and filing a lawsuit adds to the issue instead of taking from it. However, it is crucial to find justice for a loved one shot and killed by a police officer. You can do so with the help of a wrongful death or civil rights attorney depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Can You Sue The Police for Wrongful Death?

Yes, you can. Police work is chaotic and can result in officers violating the rights of the citizens they deal with or engaging in negligent acts. One such act is shooting a suspect and killing them.

If loved ones can prove that the police officer’s actions were negligent and unjustified, they can sue for compensation for damages.

Winning such cases can be difficult because police officers make split-second life-or-death decisions every time they are on duty. For this reason, it can be difficult to establish liability, which is key to winning wrongful death lawsuits.

You also need to know that you should file a lawsuit against the jurisdiction or city of the police department of the police officer or officers involved. Police officers can receive qualified immunity even against wrongful death lawsuits if they did not willfully violate established law.

For example, the police may be immune from a lawsuit if the victim died after police officers had no other option but to shoot them or if the victim put the police officer in danger and they had to protect themselves.

However, all of this is determined using facts and evidence such as body cam footage. Getting the right evidence can see the qualified immunity removed, the police officer’s department sued for compensation, or the police officer charged with a criminal offense.

State and Federal Jurisdictions

You can sue a police officer who acted negligently or with malicious intent at the state level. You can sue them at the federal level if you can show that they violated the victim’s civil rights.

For example, a police officer will be sued federally if they beat up a suspect (police brutality), thereby violating their civil rights. In rare cases, loved ones can file both state and federal lawsuits.

Federal courts handling wrongful death lawsuits also have supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. This means the victim’s loved ones can file a federal claim that cites state laws. However, those state-related claims so cited must be directly related to the federal crimes alleged.

A federal court can also send a claim to the state level if it finds no valid constitutional claims for it to be tried at the federal level. Many cases that go this route typically involve negligence or intentional harm claims and cite valid state law.

The Complexity of Appropriate Force

Police officers can use appropriate force depending on the circumstances. Many wrongful death claims against police officers, jurisdictions, or departments hinge on determining what force was appropriate for that situation and whether police officers exceeded it.

Answering whether the police officer responded appropriately to a perceived threat or used excessive force is difficult because excessive force is subjective and situational. For example, a police officer may see a teenager holding a toy gun in a “threatening” manner. If they shoot the suspect without determining what they are holding, it is considered excessive force.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Suit In Police Shootings?

In most states, only people closely related to the victim can file a wrongful death suit. In others, a personal representative of their estate or real parties of interest can sue. Real parties of interest are people directly connected to the victim and are, therefore, the ones most affected by the loss.

In most states, the parties of interest who can file include:

  • Siblings, in case the victim did not have a spouse or children
  • Parents, in case they did not have a spouse or children
  • Children or stepchildren
  • Domestic partner or spouse

Some of the damages these parties can sue for include:

  • Loss of income
  • Loss of love, companionship, moral support, guidance, training, care, assistance, and protection

Because of how complex filing a claim against a police officer, their city, or department is, loved ones must work with attorneys to get the best outcome. An attorney will help you gather evidence to see if you have a case. They will also know how to file a Public Records Act request and file an official complaint with the appropriate bodies.

They will also hire an investigator, find eyewitnesses, gather evidence, and do their best to get the facts of what happened to strengthen the claim and provide answers to family members.

Making Survival Claims

Another type of remedy loved ones can seek is survival claims. These claims are for injuries the victim suffered between when they were injured and when they died. These include financial, physical, and psychological injuries that took place in the months, weeks, days, hours, or seconds before the victim died.

Survival claims can seem like another form of wrongful death suit, but they are not. They are the lawsuit the victim would have filed if they had not succumbed to their injuries. They have to do with the harm caused to the victim, while wrongful death lawsuits have to do with the harm or damage caused to the loved ones and anyone else left behind by the victim.

Losing a loved one is devastating, but things are much worse if the death is due to the actions of the people sworn to protect them. Family members have a right to file a claim for the damage they suffer following the death of a loved one after a police shooting. You can get justice for a loved one and the compensation you deserve with the help of Rush Injury Law.

You can visit our offices at the following locations:

  • 10 Commercial Blvd, #206 Novato, CA 94949
  • 75 Broadway #202, San Francisco, CA 94111
  • 3558 Round Barn Blvd, Suite 200, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

You can also call us today for a free consultation at (415) 897-4801 and to discuss your case with one of our attorneys.

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