Most police officers are hardworking men and women who truly want to protect the communities they serve. However, anyone in any profession can make a mistake, and there are also occasional bad actors in every profession. Unfortunately, when a police officer is negligent or acts maliciously, people can be seriously hurt. And if you're harmed by someone who is supposed to be upholding the law, you may find yourself wondering where you can turn for justice. Luckily, our court system is set up to defend the rights of everyone. If you were hurt during an interaction with the police, you may have grounds for a lawsuit for excessive force, even if you were being arrested at the time. Take a look at a few things you have to do before bringing a personal injury lawsuit against the police.
Deal With Your Criminal Charges First
If you were being arrested and charged at the time of your injury, you may have two legal problems going on at the same time – a criminal case and a civil case. A criminal case can result in the loss of your freedom, and that should always take priority. So, it's important to make sure that you're not doing anything in your personal injury case that will interfere with your criminal case.
Never threaten a police officer with a lawsuit. The best advice while you're interacting with the police is the advice a criminal defense lawyer would give you: exercise your right to remain silent. Ask for medical help if you need it (and if medical help is denied, go to a doctor or hospital as soon as you're released from custody.) Ask for an attorney, and describe the injury in detail to your attorney. Let your defense attorney know as soon as you start considering a lawsuit. The timing and other aspects of the lawsuit could impact your criminal case, so your defense attorney needs to be kept apprised. Otherwise, they won't be able to advise you properly.
Documentation is a vital part of any lawsuit, but it may be more important when you're suing an officer or police department. The testimony of a police officer often carries more weight with a judge or jury than the testimony of a civilian. Many people will simply assume the officer is being truthful. And if you were arrested or charged with a crime, you may expect that to come up in court, and it may affect the judge's or jury's opinion of your credibility.
The way that you get past this problem is with evidence and specific details. If you have injuries, take pictures of them right away, even if you haven't decided for sure that you want to sue. If there is any property damage, get pictures of that as well. As soon as you're able, write down the details of the events leading up to your injury as you remember them – this can help you describe what happened in clear and specific detail later. If you seem forgetful or vague, it can impact your credibility. Save any paperwork that relates to your injury or interaction with the police. The more documentation you have, the better.
File a Government Tort Claim
The rules for filing a lawsuit against a government entity are different from the rules for filing a lawsuit against a private citizen or a corporation. Some governmental entities have immunity from lawsuits, but this is not usually true of police officers accused of excessive force. However, in most states, you do usually have to let the government know that you'll be filing a lawsuit and give them a chance to respond. You can do this with a government tort claim.
Each state has its own rules concerning the timing of government tort claims. In California, for example, you have to file within six months of the incident and the government has 45 days to respond. Your state may have different deadlines, so make sure you're aware of them or you might miss your chance. Depending on the facts of the case, the state or the department that you're suing may attempt to offer you a settlement to avoid a lawsuit. You don't necessarily need a lawyer to help you file the tort claim (though having one can help) but be sure to consult with a personal injury lawyer before you accept any settlement offer. An attorney can help you make sure that your rights are protected and the settlement offer is fair.
An officer who is being sued will be represented in court by an experienced and skilled attorney, and you need to make sure that you have legal expertise in your corner as well. Choose a lawyer in your area who has a history of successful suits against police or other government entities.