What happens if you are injured by a police officer in Connecticut?

By virtue of their positions, police officers are granted the authority to use a reasonable degree of force when necessary for the safety and well-being of all parties involved including the person being detained, the officer, and even bystanders. However, the authority to use force is limited. When officers abuse this authority and use more force than required to gain control of the situation, injuries and even death can follow. As such, with their authority comes tremendous responsibility, prudence, and discretion.

As government officials, police officers are generally shielded from liability for injuries or damages that result from their actions - specifically, those actions carried out in the course of their government employment (for example, a police officer who harms someone while off-duty would not benefit from this liability shield). However, some states impose laws that allow an officer to be held personally liable for monetary damages for harm-inducing behavior beyond the scope of his employment.

Under new legislation passed this summer, Connecticut has taken a stand against police misconduct by limiting certain protections once afforded to police. The new law seeks to deter the use of inappropriate or excessive force by banning “chokeholds,” limiting the ability of local departments to withhold the disciplinary records of officers, and eliminating immunity that would otherwise protect an officer from personal liability for misconduct. As an additional safeguard against this behavior, the new law requires all Connecticut police departments to implement the use of body-worn cameras for all officers.

This naturally raises questions: what does this mean for you if you are injured by a police officer? Can you sue the police officer for your injuries? Is the police department responsible for paying your damages? 

Here is some basic information to help you identify if you may have a claim against an officer and, if so, what kind of damages you may be entitled to pursue. As always, use this information in tandem with a consultation with an experienced attorney.

Is the police officer personally liable for my injuries?

The key factor in determining liability is the circumstances surrounding the injury. Was the injury caused by the police officer’s use of excessive force? Were there other factors at play? Was the injured party resisting the police? Were other actors involved?

Generally speaking, law enforcement officers are authorized to use reasonable force to gain control of a situation. This authority exists to secure the safety and well-being of all parties involved and bystanders. This means that an officer is authorized to determine when a taser, police dog, or even the use of lethal force is necessary and appropriate and to apply such force as needed.

Unfortunately, though, the use of force can sometimes result in injury even when used correctly. When the use of force is justified and appropriate, the officer is usually shielded from liability as a government official under the principle of governmental immunity. However, under Connecticut law, if the injury is caused by the officer’s misconduct or negligence in using excessive force, the officer can be held personally liable for related injuries.

House Bill 6004, otherwise known as “An Act Concerning Police Accountability,” recently went into effect. This new law limits the immunity previously afforded to government officials, such as police officers. Now, an officer can be sued and held personally liable for injuries caused by his or her misconduct, the use of excessive force, or other willful conduct. An officer may only claim qualified immunity, a concept that protects government officials from civil suits while acting within the scope of employment if the officer had an objectively good faith belief that his or her conduct did not violate the law. However, this immunity cannot be used as a defense to excuse otherwise unacceptable or negligent conduct.

Can I seek compensation for my injuries from the police department?

Generally, a police department is afforded governmental immunity. Nonetheless, the police department may help with the legal defense and associated costs of a civil lawsuit filed against one of its officers. Under Connecticut law, each municipality or law enforcement unit should protect police officers from bearing the expense of legal fees and other related costs associated with legal claims. However, if an officer is found liable for a malicious, wanton, or willful act, he will likely be required to reimburse the municipality or law enforcement unit for related financial consequences.

However, because every case is different and the police department may be liable for negligent hiring, training, or other insufficiencies connected to the officer’s misconduct, you should contact an experienced attorney for guidance on how to recover damages for your injuries and who may be liable for compensating you.

What types of damages could I recover by filing a personal injury claim against a law enforcement officer?

A person may file a civil suit against a law enforcement officer seeking equitable relief or damages after being injured by an officer or otherwise deprived of equal protection, privileges, or the immunities afforded under Connecticut state law. If you have been injured due to the misconduct or negligence of a police officer, you may be entitled to compensatory damages which are meant to compensate you for the injury, and punitive damages which are intended to punish the officer and deter future misconduct. You may also recover court costs and attorney fees in your damages.

Can I still recover compensation, even though I was arrested?

It is never acceptable for a police officer to hurt you, regardless of whether you were arrested or detained. Certainly, if you are already apprehended and handcuffed, there is no reason for any force to be used against you which means there is no reason for any injury. Therefore, it does not matter if you were arrested or the circumstances in which you encountered the police. If a police officer causes bodily harm, you can file a lawsuit for related money damages for your injury. Contact an attorney to discuss your options for compensation for your injuries and related expenses.

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