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Can You Sue The Police?

While many of us believe that most police officers act reasonably when conducting an arrest or using force, there are times when law enforcement may take things too far. Within the past few years, a number of cases have come to light where the death or forceful apprehension of alleged suspects may have been avoided. What happens when you or a loved one has been wronged in some way by an officer? Can you sue the police? What does it take to build such a case?

Legal Action Against Law Enforcement

In order to pursue a case against the police, you will absolutely want to get in touch with an attorney. Depending on your state, there are a number of circumstances that can affect your ability to file a claim as well as the time period in which one must be filed.

For instance, in some states, emotional distress alone is not sufficient grounds for a claim; you must have suffered actual physical injuries at the hands of law enforcement officers. Some states use a legal doctrine known as “qualified immunity” to protect their public officials, including law enforcement. In essence, qualified immunity means that the public official may not be held civilly liable unless they have in some way violated a person’s constitutional rights.

In nearly every state, the statute of limitations is much shorter when a plaintiff wishes to pursue a case against the government, rather than a private individual or entity. To make matters even more complicated, some plaintiffs will be defendants in criminal cases while their case against the police is ongoing.

Building Your Case

If you or a loved one has been harmed by law enforcement officers, follow these tips and contact an attorney right away:

  • Photograph your injuries as soon as possible. With any personal injury case, you will want evidence of your injuries. If you have been injured by an officer, you may not be able to photograph your injuries right away, however, you should do so as soon as possible.
  • Notify your criminal defense attorney of your intent to pursue legal action. If, for whatever reason, the officer has seen fit to charge you with any kind of crime, notify your criminal defense attorney that you are pursuing civil action against the law enforcement agency. Your criminal defense attorney and personal injury attorney may be able to share certain information which could assist in both cases.
  • Avoid discussing the case publicly with anyone. Public discussion of a case can ruin your chances in court. If anyone asks you about the case, avoid commenting on it altogether. Additionally, it is always a wise practice to refrain from posting any information about an ongoing claim on social media.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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