Civil Claims for Injury by Police Officers or Security Guards

A look at your legal options if excessive force by a law enforcement official or private security guard lead to your injury.

There's no denying that policemen and security guards have, even at the best of times, difficult jobs. Charged with protecting the public welfare and/or defending the private property and merchandise of others, those in the security industry are met with resistance at nearly every turn. And most cops and guards are good, law-abiding citizens who just want to help others.

But what happens when a police officer or security guard crosses the line? It happens, and the fallout can be catastrophic, particularly in cases where excessive force comes into play. If you are injured by a police officer or security guard, what follows is a look at you legal options.

Excessive Force by Police

Police officers are charged with protecting the public welfare and enforcing the laws of their jurisdiction. Whether a local cop, a county sheriff or an FBI Special Agent, law enforcement officers are entrusted with the safety and responsibility of the communities in which they work. As such, they are accorded a great deal of latitude with regard to the application of force in the course of enforcing the law. But police officers may not bring physical force to bear without regard for the physical safety of their target.

As a general rule, police may only use the degree of force that is necessary to maintain control of an incident, affect an arrest, or protect the officer or the public from harm. Any use of force falling outside those parameters could be viewed as excessive.

Personal injuries resulting from excessive application of force are actionable. While police officers are shielded, somewhat, by theories of governmental immunity, their protection is not absolute. If your injuries were the direct result of excessive application of force, and can be clearly attributed to the officer in question, your lawsuit will likely stand. However, if your injuries could just as easily be attributed to another party other than the police (including yourself), you may have difficulty overcoming governmental immunity.

Once your suit is allowed to go forward, it will generally proceed much like any other personal injury suit. As a practical matter, excessive force personal injury suits that are not dismissed under theories of governmental immunity very often settle out of court. Municipalities, governmental agencies and police officers and their unions detest the negative publicity that comes from a high profile case of police brutality, and will often seek an out-of-court settlement in an attempt to limit notoriety.

Excessive Force by a Private Security Guard

Security guards, unlike police officers or other law enforcement officials, are granted no special powers under the law. Like you or I, security guards are simply private citizens, and may not use physical force other than in very specific circumstances. Any citizen has the right to use physical force to protect themselves, their property or another from imminent physical harm.

The degree of force allowed under the law is generally equal to the degree of force being exerted by the wrongdoer. For example, bouncers are well within their rights to forcibly remove the participants in a bar fight from a bar. And once the combatants have been removed, the bouncers may physically prevent them from entering the bar again. But a bouncer cannot simply beat a belligerent drunk into submission. Such force would be considered excessive and would be actionable as a personal injury case.

Lethal Force

The laws and regulations covering the use of lethal force by police officers and security guards vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But if the threshold requirements for use of lethal force cannot be met by an officer or guard, their actions may give rise to a civil wrongful death suit, as well as criminal liability in some cases.

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