Q: Can the police be sued for wrongful death?
It’s one of the earlier cases to thrust into the national spotlight the now commonplace issue of racial tension between the police department and people of color. In 2012, a white male New York City Police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in his apartment under circumstances that are being reviewed still today. The officer was responding to a radio call from a narcotics team on surveillance advising that the 18-year old black suspect and some friends had left a “known drug location”. The narcotics team also radioed a warning that they suspected the teen had a gun in his waistband. The officer and his partner tailed the suspects to an apartment house, where neighbors gave them building access. Then the cops proceeded to “break down” the teen’s family’s apartment door. The teen reportedly ignored the officer’s repeated orders to “stop and show your hands”, instead running into a bathroom to possibly flush pot down the toilet according to the officer. The officer claimed the teen reached for his waistband, which prompted him to draw his gun and fire, killing the teen with a bullet to the chest. In addition to defending a wrongful death action against the city by close relatives of the suspect who was killed (which was reportedly settled for $3.9 Million), the police department conducted its own investigation to determine what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken against the officer. The investigation reviewed both disputed and undisputed facts in the context of standard police procedure. In the case at hand, both sides of the internal investigation concede that the officer reasonably suspected the suspect had a gun. At issue however, is how the officer responded. Arguments in the officer’s defense claim that he should not be second-guessed for split second decisions, that he was trying to take a weapon off the streets, and that if the victim had obeyed the officer’s order to stop and show his hands, there wouldn’t have been a shooting. Arguments on the other side accuse the officer of breaking from established police protocol, claiming that he should have instead “guarded the front door, called for back-up and waited for instructions from a sergeant”. When a person is injured or killed by the negligent, reckless, or intentional actions of someone else, they (or in the event of a death their close relatives) may be entitled to sue for personal injury or wrongful death as the case may be. When someone is wrongfully killed, their loss can leave a tremendous burden on their close surviving family members. By pursuing a wrongful death action, family members can recover such compensation as death-related costs like medical, funeral, and burial expenses, as well as loss of income or financial support, pain and suffering, and loss of comfort, depending on their relationship to the victim. In addition to proving these damages, the family must prove the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct caused the victim’s death. It is important to note when suing government agencies like the police department, a notice of claim must be filed very quickly in order to preserve the right to sue. That’s why it’s important to contact a skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorney immediately after the incident in order to preserve the right to sue and maximize the amount you may be entitled to recover. The attorneys at the Manhattan law firm of Jaroslawicz & Jaros have more than 200 years of combined experience handling personal injury and wrongful death cases and we can help you. Call us today at for a free consultation. We help victims from all over the State of New York and nationwide.