Civil Suits By LEOs: Your Rights on the Civil Side of the Law
You are driving your patrol vehicle facing a green light at a busy intersection. In a scenario played out thousands of times each day, a driver approaching the red light from the right is too busy texting a friend to pay attention to the color of a traffic signal. He is traveling 50 miles per hour and never touches the brakes as he enters the intersection and strikes the passenger side of your patrol vehicle.There was no way for you to avoid the collision.
The impact is severe. When your car stops spinning, you realize you are hurt. Not the type of bruising and soreness you feel after arresting a resisting suspect, I mean really hurt. Your first responder skills kick in as you take a moment to assess your injuries. When you see the deformity in your right arm. you tell radio to send EMS code 1.
I have had the honor to represent many LEOs in many types of cases. I’ve stood with LEOs in grand juries, trial courts, civil service boards and internal affair interviews. I have also stood and protected LEOs and their families when they were injured on the job. I’m not just talking about workers compensation cases. I’m talking about using the civil courts to recover money damages for LEOs injured on the job.
Most of these cases involve motor vehicle collisions. However, that is not always the case. I sued on behalf of a LEO in response to a use of force claim filed by a young man and his parents after the LEO shot the young man. The LEO shot several times after the young man stabbed the LEO. I sued the perpetrator for the stabbing and the parents for buying the knife. I also sued a person who falsely alleged that a LEO fondled her on a traffic stop. We were successful in both cases and many others.
Civil suits are nearly always available to LEOs any time they are injured by the actions of another. Sometimes, the suits do not make sense, but often, this is the only way for the LEO to clear his name. In the case of the LEO falsely accused of fondling a woman on a traffic stop, he now has a copy of the civil judgment against this accuser in his personnel file. No lingering questions hanging over his head or rumors during promotion reviews. He was cleared. His accuser also has to write him a check every month.
Civil suits are separate and apart from a claim under workers compensation. Workers compensation is a no-fault system. If you are working and suffer an injury, the workers compensation system is there to ensure that your medical bills and other benefits are paid. However, you can file a claim for workers compensation and a civil suit against the person who injured you. In most states, however, you cannot sue your employer in a separate civil suit.
In the case above, you would have a potential civil suit against the driver who ran the red light. You may also have a claim against the driver’s employer. These claims often settle without the need for a civil suit especially when people pull out in front of LEOs. It is hard to say you did not see the marked car coming! Juries are very unforgiving of people who injure LEOs; especially DUI drivers!
The important thing is to find an attorney who is not working for your agency or government entity. You must find an attorney who will independently evaluate the merits of your case. In my experience, agencies do not care if you file suit against a person who injures you and are generally very supportive. This is especially the case when you file a countersuit against a person who sues you for excessive use of force. Remember that the suspect who punches and kicks you can be sued! That is the basis of your countersuit when that same suspect sues you for excessive use of force after you arrest him.
Finally, the attorney you choose must be willing to go the extra mile. I once represented a LEO who was shot serving a warrant. He and his partner were able to exit the house. The suspect took his own life after the responding LEOs formed a perimeter. I wanted to file suit against the suspect’s estate, but the family tried to prevent this by refusing to set up an estate. So, I set up an estate for the suspect, appointed an attorney to represent the estate and filed suit against the suspect’s estate! It took over two years, but were able to collect a settlement for the LEO. He is still working today, and I am proud to know that I helped him.
I learned many things in law school and I learned a lot on the street as a LEO. I practice law with a philosophy from the street, “Never give up.” Do not forget to consider a civil suit if you are injured on duty. This is so important to protect yourself and your family as you may not be able to work part-time jobs or earn any overtime while out of work. A recovery in a civil suit can help fill those gaps especially if you are not able to return to work. Read my blog post on underinsured/ underinsured motorist (UM) insurance to make certain you are doing everything possible to protect yourself. UM insurance on his personal vehicle would likely help our LEO in the accident described above.
You are a part of our court system, civil and criminal. Do not hesitate to use that system to help you when you are injured on and off duty. You deserve access to our courts. In fact, you earn that access every day.