Illinois Protects Police with Partial Immunity in Police Misconduct Cases

2015 was not a good year for the police. The news was rife with allegations of excessive force, and in many cases included videos that backed the claims up. It seemed that no city or state was spared: Baltimore, Cleveland, Ferguson, New York, Texas, Chicago. The list goes on.

marion-county-sheriff-1532438In response to what they saw, citizens took to the streets, demanding accountability and a change in police tactics. There were calls for resignations. The Department of Justice jumped in to investigate. Some officers were put on leave or suspended, while others were cleared of wrongdoing.

Many police departments promised change. They vowed to look inward. Some even sent officers abroad to study police tactics in foreign countries that have been successful at limiting excessive force. The verdict at home is still out.

In some cases, civil lawsuits were filed against the officers and police departments accused of excessive force. For families who lost a loved one, like a young son, lawsuits like these are often their only vindication, especially if criminal charges are not brought or a jury acquits the police of criminal conduct.

Lawsuits Against Police in Illinois

In Illinois, it is not easy to sue a police officer or police department. This is because Illinois affords police officers a certain level of governmental immunity. The same is true for other state employees, like teachers and school administrators, who enjoy a similar level of qualified immunity, although for somewhat different reasons.

In most civil cases, if a person fails to act reasonably under the circumstances, and this failure causes an injury to another person, he or she may be liable for negligence. This is the case with motor vehicle drivers who are careless and cause an accident, and doctors who commit errors while treating their patients. If a plaintiff can just show that a defendant acted without reasonable care, he or she may be entitled to compensatory damages.

For those injured by the police, however, it is not enough to prove that an officer did not act reasonably. Instead, injured parties or their grieving family members must prove that their injuries are the result of an officer’s willful and wanton actions. By willful and wanton, it is meant that an officer acts to enforce the law with a conscious disregard or utter indifference to the safety of another person.

By adopting an elevated standard in actions against the police, Illinois has purposefully made it more difficult to establish liability in police misconduct cases. Like other states, Illinois has implemented this standard in order to encourage police officers to enforce the law without inhibition and a fear of being sued.

Unfortunately, the qualified immunity that protects police officers in Illinois and elsewhere has caused some officers to believe that they can act with complete and total immunity. They might consequently choose to shoot first and think second, acting with a level of force that is clearly out of proportion to the threat with which they are faced.

This may have been the case recently when a Chicago police officer shot two residents on the city’s West Side, neither of whom was armed with a gun. According to a local news article, the police were called to an apartment complex during the night when a 19-year-old man with a baseball bat was yelling loudly in the foyer of his father’s building. When the police arrived, however, one of the officers shot the young man and a 55-year-old neighbor, who opened her apartment door just before the shots were fired. The woman was a mother of five.

Have You or Someone You Love Been Injured by a Police Officer?

If you or someone you know has been injured by a police officer, it is imperative that you speak with a lawyer. No matter how serious your injuries, Moll Law Group’s Chicago personal injury lawyers want to hear about them. No case is too small if it involves an abuse of power by the very police who are entrusted to keep the Chicago area safe. For a free consultation, call (312) 462-1700.

See More Posts:

Common Carriers Must Take Reasonable Care or Face Liability, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, January 12, 2016.

State-Owned Railway Is Protected by Sovereign Immunity, Supreme Court Decides, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, January 9, 2016.

Doctors and Drug Companies May Be Liable for Medication Side Effects, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, December 22, 2015.