It happens often enough that people within the custody of the police get hurt. Sometimes the police arrest somebody by requiring them to lay on the ground, which they do peacefully and without incident, but that the police may, for example, pick them up in a manner that damages ligaments, tears muscles, or breaks bones. If the actions were mere negligence, the person may have to seek damages under state based negligence causes of action, which, since there will necessarily be a governmental entity involved, there are additional requirements for the plaintiff to address to be able to sue the state. That is distinct, however, from whenever a governmental actor acts with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of a person. When that happens, the that government actor may be personally liable, as well as the governmental entity that employs them. Congress created the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to apply to a myriad of situations and allows for the victim to collect for both pain and suffering as well as economic damages.
Citizens being harmed by police officers may be the most common scenario but it is not the only basis. To seek damages under a 1983 action, the plaintiff must prove that they were deprived of their rights as guaranteed under either federal law or the federal constitution. For example, a whistle blower that worked for a public agency, that speaks about matters of public concern that is retaliated against by the government may seek damages under 1983, on grounds that their first amendment rights were violated. If the police wrongfully arrested, the person wrongfully arrested may be able to seek damages based on false imprisonment and unreasonable search and seizure. Sometimes the police can deprive a person of their property without just compensation or fail to procure proper medical attention for someone in their custody.
Since these rights arise out of federal law, you must litigate the matter in federal court. That does not mean, however, that you lose your right to seek other causes of action based on state law. Perhaps you have a valid defamation of character action based on false and slanderous statements that the state made in reference to you. The Federal Court asserts jurisdiction over them based on pendent jurisdiction, which means that the substantive state law remains the same, although federal procedures to redeem those rights are different than in state court.
The law allows the plaintiff to seek both compensatory and punitive damages. It will be up to the jury to decide whether or award them. At the same time, many times the government actors may be entitled to qualified immunity for their actions.
If you or a loved one suffered harm as a result of state actions, you need a strong law firm on your side. The attorneys of Napoli, Shkolnik, PLLC have the experience and ability to represent you in this very difficult time. We can reached at 212-397-1000 or you can fill out our online contact information so someone can contact you.