Can I Sue The Southfield Police Department For Injuries?
The police are supposed to protect the public, but occasionally, innocent citizens get hurt in the course of justice. When negligence or police misconduct causes these injuries, the victim has the right to sue the police department. Holding bad apples accountable ensures victims get the justice they deserve and improves the overall system, but it can feel like an uphill battle. Fortunately, a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate this complicated legal landscape.
If you feel that you have grounds to sue the Southfield Police Department for personal injuries, the first step is to identify if you have a case. Your attorney can review your circumstances and determine the grounds for your civil suit.
Grounds To Sue
If a civilian is liable for your injury, suing is a matter of proving negligence or responsibility. For example, if a homeowner doesn’t fix a rotting porch step, and you break your foot falling through it, you can win a case by establishing the homeowner knew about the issue and failed to fix it. However, proving that the police is liable is more complicated.
Police officers’ jobs are dangerous and often involve physical restraint. Officers may have to resort to violence to defend their lives; shooting a suspect threatening to open fire is one such case. Police must act in the moment to save lives, so they require a degree of liability protection. In 1967, the Supreme Court established the concept of qualified immunity, which stipulates that officers are only liable if their actions violate constitutional or statutory rights. These rights must be recognizable by a reasonable person and “clearly established” — for example, the right against unlawful search and seizure.
To win a case, you must prove that the actions responsible for your injuries aren’t protected under qualified immunity. An attorney can help by arguing that police actions were recklessly indifferent or malicious. You can win if you have enough evidence showing previous identical cases were decided in the plaintiff’s favor.
While the police can use force in the course of duty, there are limits. For example, if suspects sustain injuries while resisting arrest, they won’t have a case, as the police used force to enforce the law appropriately. However, police brutality is another matter. If officers exert more force than is necessary for the situation and injure the suspects, they may have a legitimate case.
In the past, proving excessive force was a case of “he said, she said,” making it difficult to determine the truth. Today, body and dash cameras capture officer-suspect interactions, providing a clearer picture.
Of course, innocent bystanders can also get injured. Anyone harmed due to police negligence has the right to sue, whether the injuries resulted from a vehicle collision, excessive force, a shooting or sexual assault.
Like other municipal government vehicles, police cars enjoy the protection of tort liability immunity. However, the Michigan Supreme Court has carved out a motor vehicle exception. Suppose a police or other government vehicle causes damage to your property or person due to negligence. In that case, you could win a suit, even if said vehicle is being used to discharge the municipality’s governmental function.
You should note that the Michigan Supreme Court placed limitations on what plaintiffs can claim. This notably excludes loss of consortium, which the victim’s close relatives or spouse may argue in court. Loss of consortium includes affection, sexual relations and other family or marriage relationship benefits that are no longer possible due to the victim’s injury or death. You cannot claim loss of consortium, but you can file a suit for the following:
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
While force is sometimes necessary during police officers’ jobs, the law expects them to practice discretion and not act violently simply because they are authority figures. When officers hurt suspects without a justifiable reason or go out of their way to use more violence than is appropriate, this is excessive force.
Proving whether the force used was “reasonable” or not is the crux of your case. The following are factors courts use to answer this question:
- Whether injuries could’ve been avoided
- How severe the alleged crime was
- How many people the officer was dealing with at once
- How long the officer’s actions lasted
- Whether the officer thought the suspect was dangerous or armed
- Whether the suspect was evading capture
- Whether the suspect actively resisted arrest
- Whether the suspect posed a threat to others
Police shootings of unarmed suspects are a common headline in U.S. news, and unfortunately, there are rarely criminal consequences for the loss of innocent life. For many, the only avenue is a civil suit.
In many cases, the officers involved can argue that they thought the suspect was armed and, therefore, feared for their lives. Even if the suspect wasn’t armed, that fear might be a credible defense. It can be incredibly difficult to counter this claim, though not impossible. Your attorney can attempt to prove the police knew you didn’t pose a threat, illustrating that officer actions fell under excessive force.
Sexual assault has physical and emotional repercussions, and unfortunately, police officers aren’t exempt from being perpetrators. In fact, because they are in a position of power and have access to vulnerable populations, officers should face more scrutiny in this area. Sexual assault is non-consensual, intentional sexual acts, including the following:
- Exposing genitals
- Touching victims or forcing them to touch the perpetrator
- Penetration with an object or body part
- Showing the victim indecent images
In some cases, sexual assault involves physical force, such as assailants holding victims down or hitting them. In other instances, perpetrators use coercion, such as threats against loved ones, of losing gainful employment or of imprisonment. There are also circumstances when sexual encounters can’t be considered consensual, even if both parties appear to consent:
- One party is a minor
- One party is unconscious or intoxicated
- One party has power over the other
While the latter may seem like it applies to police officers and detainees, it, unfortunately, doesn’t, as proven by a New York case from 2018. Sex between detainees and police officers isn’t explicitly illegal under Michigan or federal law, even if detainees feel they were coerced into it. As a result, if an officer sexually assaulted you during a stop or while in custody, you must prove that other circumstances made it non-consensual.
Physical injuries can cause emotional distress, but even victims who escape without visible wounds struggle with lasting effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions can negatively impact personal relationships, workplace performance and quality of life. If you experience emotional distress as a result of police negligence, you may have a winnable case.
To win a suit, you must prove the following:
- Your emotional distress is severe enough that a reasonable person couldn’t cope with it.
- Police actions caused your emotional distress.
- The actions that caused the distress were either reckless, intentional or extreme and outrageous.
For the court to consider acts “extreme and outrageous,” you must prove the officer held power over you, exhibited a pattern of this conduct, and knew you were in a particularly vulnerable emotional state.