Can You Sue the Police for Wrongful Death?

Aditi Mukherji

Police officers usually have broad powers to carry out their duties. However, police officers go too far sometimes. When this happens, the victim of the misconduct might have remedies available under federal and state laws.

In Illinois, the Illinois Wrongful Death Act allows victims to sue for a number of different actions that include police misconduct or use of deadly force.

So while officers may have qualified immunity, they can also potentially be held liable for wrongful death.

Higher Standard for Police Misconduct

Police officers are typically immune from lawsuits for the performance of their jobs. The goal of qualified immunity is to allow state and federal employees to perform their responsibilities without fear of being sued by individuals who may suffer injuries.

Generally, a lawsuit for wrongful death is a claim that a person’s life was taken due to the negligence of another person or company. But when it involves police misconduct, the standard is higher.

Unlike private citizens, police officers can’t be held liable for negligent conduct that resulted in a death. That means the failure to exercise due care isn’t enough to trigger liability. Instead, the conduct that caused the death must be willful and unreasonable.

What’s Willful or Unreasonable?

Most wrongful death lawsuits against the police involve claims of excessive force. Whether the officer’s use of force was reasonable depends on the surrounding facts and circumstances.

For example, officers are authorized to use reasonable amounts of force to restrain or capture a suspect. But a court can find that under circumstances the force was unreasonable, which allows a victim to recover.

However, before you even begin work on a potential lawsuit against the police, you generally must give the police — or, usually, the local government in charge of the police — notice of your claim, and a chance to respond. The notice must be submitted within a certain time period after the injury occurs.

Because the laws about suing the police for injury or wrongful death can get complicated, you may want to contact an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer to help guide you through the process.

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Can You Sue the Police for Wrongful Death?