The recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, and several other people around the country have shined a bright spotlight on civil rights violations and negligent acts by police. Unfortunately, in many of these cases, officers involved aren’t being held criminally responsible for their actions. But even if officers who negligently or intentionally take peoples’ lives aren’t held to account through prosecution, family members of the deceased can file wrongful death lawsuits against them.
How does a wrongful death case against the police succeed? To be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, several things must be shown:
- The police officer owed a duty of care to the deceased.
- The officer breached that duty of care by acting negligently or intentionally.
- The officer’s negligent or intentional actions resulted in your family member’s death.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Help Survivors Get Financial Compensation
There is no doubt that the job of policing is often stressful and chaotic. Most police officers are trying to do the best job they can in what are often dangerous circumstances. They must sometimes make split-second or difficult decisions to protect themselves and others. When these decisions, though, result in death and are the result of excessive force, negligence, misconduct, or just plain brutality, wrongful death lawsuits can help survivors get financial compensation.
We know that money can’t ever replace a beloved family member. But it can help pay for financial losses you suffered or may suffer in the future because of your loved one’s death. And it can also serve to hold bad officers accountable, especially when they are not charged in criminal court.
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death by Police?
In Texas, only certain family members can file wrongful death claims. If you are a spouse, parent, or child of someone who was killed, you may be able to file a claim for wrongful death by police. Siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relations can’t file wrongful death claims unless they are the personal representative of the deceased. When eligible survivors — meaning a spouse, parents, or children — don’t file claims, personal representatives can file on behalf of the estate, unless they are asked not to by an eligible survivor.
If your loved one was killed by police and you are wondering about a wrongful death case, it’s important to work with an attorney who has extensive experience in this area of the law. It can be extremely difficult to sue police and the agencies they work for, and how skillfully an attorney handles a wrongful death case can be very important.
What Can You Get in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against the Police?
In a successful wrongful death lawsuit against the police, you can get money to compensate you for your losses, or damages. Damages you may be able to get payment for include the following:
- Medical treatment that may have been given before death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Compensation for lost income and benefits for the present and future
- Lost inheritance
- Pain and suffering of the victim and survivors
- Mental anguish of survivors
- Lost companionship, support, love, guidance, protection, nurturing, and care provided by the victim.
How much you might get will depend on many things, including the degree of negligence involved and the extent of your losses. In the case of Breonna Taylor, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed to pay her survivors $12 million in a settlement, as well as put extensive police reforms in place. This high settlement amount may have been due to the extensive publicity of that case. An investigation of wrongful death settlements by the Washington Post a few years ago showed a median settlement amount of $1.2 million.
What Happens in a Case of Wrongful Death by Police
In a wrongful death lawsuit against the police, claims are typically brought against the city or police agency that employs the officers, as well as the officers themselves. Legal claims are brought against employers because officers are sometimes protected under qualified immunity from having to pay money damages, depending on the circumstances involved.
Proving wrongful death against police is a complex process. It takes an intricate investigation of all the evidence involved. Attorneys bringing wrongful death claims for survivors may have to prove that the officer didn’t really believe that their life was in danger, but still applied excessive force. Or the attorney may need to show that an officer acted outside of department regulations or training, or that they denied medical care even though they knew further harm could result.
If the evidence against an officer is strong, the city or agency named in the claim may agree to negotiate a settlement offer. Sometimes cities have quickly agreed to confidential settlements just to avoid negative publicity. If a fair settlement is reached, survivors will be paid without having to go to trial.
In cases where the evidence and liability is disputed or an adequate settlement can’t be negotiated, the wrongful death case will require litigation and potentially, a trial. In a trial, a jury or judge will decide whether an officer or city should be held responsible for all or a portion of the damages. Then they will decide on an appropriate award amount.
Get Help with Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against the Police
As you well know, losing someone because of a police officer’s negligent or intentional act is upsetting on many levels. The police are sworn to protect and serve and not to carelessly take lives. You are most likely experiencing anger, confusion, emotional pain, anxiety, and a whole host of other emotions. At the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant in Houston, we will work hard to relieve some of your stress by effectively and compassionately representing you in your wrongful death lawsuit against the police.
Firm founder Terry Bryant is a former Texas judge. He and the other attorneys at the firm have in-depth insight into how police and police agencies operate that serves to benefit clients in officer-involved cases. To arrange a free consultation, call our law firm at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000 today. We are here for you when you have lost a family member due to police misconduct.