A $6.5 million settlement has been reached between the family of Antonio Valenzuela and the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The family filed for wrongful death after police held Valenzuela in a chokehold following a traffic stop. The case has led the local government to facilitate several reforms in the police force, including a ban on chokeholds. Valenzuela’s case is just one example of recent suits filed against law enforcement at a time when police behavior is under close scrutiny. If you’re considering filing a wrongful death suit following an incident involving the police, a civil suit is certainly possible, but it can be more complicated than other wrongful death cases. However, as it has in the Valenzuela case, it can result in real change, so for families who are willing to go through the complex process, it can bring a sense of justice at an extremely difficult time.
The process of wrongful death suits
Wrongful death lawsuits are applicable when someone has caused another person’s death through negligence or malicious intent. In these cases, the victim’s family can file a claim against the person who is legally liable. Wrongful death suits also apply to families who have lost a loved one to a car accident or medical malpractice. In all instances, the family is required to meet the burden of proof, which means enough evidence must be presented to prove that wrongful death has occurred.
According to wrongful death experts at FVF Law, the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than it is in a criminal case, which is why many wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions taken when defendants were not found guilty in a criminal trial. Once the family has won a case, they are entitled to damages that will cover funeral costs, medical costs and the loss of the victim’s income. However, when the defendants are agents of the law, the process can become more complicated.
When police officers are involved
A police officer is required by duty to protect their community. When their actions infringe on human rights or involve negligence, however, this can result in injury or fatality. If they are able to prove that the police were at fault, a family can file a civil suit against them, but it can prove challenging for the court to determine liability. This is because of the dangerous situations that members of the police force are often in, requiring them to make on-the-spot decisions that may lead to death or injury.
Families must file a civil suit against the police in the city of the police department involved, no matter where they are based themselves. As police officers are public employees, they may qualify for immunity in wrongful death claims as long as harm was not intentional. For example, an officer may be granted immunity if they correctly followed department procedure, despite the death of the victim. Working with a wrongful death attorney is critical in these circumstances: they will be able to get hold of relevant police reports, track evidence and obtain the medical documents necessary to your case. Although meeting the burden of proof is easier in a civil case, it is substantially more difficult in cases involving the police, and an expert in the field has the best chance of proving the defendant guilty.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is stressful no matter what the circumstances, but families fighting against the police often face an even steeper challenge. However, if the outcome involves not only compensation, but also police reform as it did in the Valenzuela case, for many families, the challenge will be well worth it.