If you believe the use of excessive force by police caused injuries, you could bring a personal injury lawsuit against them. Excessive force by police often causes serious injuries. Here are some things to know about pursuing a personal injury case against police for excessive force.

Definition of Excessive Force

Police have a right to use some force if the situation calls for it, but they can only use reasonable force to keep a suspect from escaping. Excessive force includes using weapons when the suspect is unarmed, physical force on a suspect not resisting arrest, or intimidating a suspect or witness with physical force. During a trial, a judge makes a decision based on what a reasonable officer with the same knowledge would have done in the same circumstance.

Immunity Laws

Private citizens and police get protection from state and federal laws. Excessive force cases fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, or Section 1983, which makes it unlawful for law enforcement to deny a U.S. citizen civil rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was enacted to curtail vigilante groups and oppressive government behavior.

Qualified immunity gives police protection from lawsuits based on the idea they have a difficult job. If they didn't have this protection, they would be afraid to do their jobs because of fear of lawsuits. However, it does not apply if it could be proven an officer abused their power, and it does not stop them from having to pay damages out of court. Qualified immunity does not apply to the government responsible for the officer's actions, but to individual officers.

If you want to sue a state or municipality, you could face another challenge: government immunity. Government immunity protects states from being sued in federal court by private citizens under the 11th Amendment, and some states grant this immunity to counties and cities.

Pursuing a Case

  • File a Torte Claim. Before you can sue, you usually must file torte claim against the local government that oversees law enforcement. State laws commonly give the government a time period to respond. They may reply with a settlement. 
  • File a Complaint. File a complaint with the police department, and a police misconduct report with the U.S. Attorney General's Office and the United States Department of Justice.
  • Gather evidence. Get copies of your medical records, pictures of injuries, and any clothing or personal items torn during the altercation. Try to get names of witnesses to back up your side of the story.

Law enforcement's job is hard, but you have a right to be treated fairly and compensated for injuries. If you don't already have a personal injury attorney, consider hiring one. A personal injury lawyer can help you win your case, since laws are complex.