Police Officer Liability

Local governments perform a variety of functions. As citizens demand more from their government, the laws governing their behavior becomes more complex. This is especially prevalent with police officers. Officers often have to balance the desire of the citizenry to uphold the law while protecting those who are law-abiding. This is especially difficult in the context of the exercise of police duty like police chases. In these instances, bystanders can be injured when officers have to conduct their duties to enforce and execute the laws.

What liability do police officers have?

States differ in their theories of liabilities so if you have been injured as a result of police conducting their duties it is best to seek an attorney for advice. In Illinois when the Supreme Court abolished sovereign immunity, which protected governmental entities from tort lawsuits, the legislature responded with the Tort Immunity Act 745 ILCS 10. With regard to police actions, it depends on the nature of the duty. Generally, police are not liable for actions or failure to act in providing police protection to the general public. The theory is that the police have a duty to protect the public generally but not any specific individual. This standard applies when officers are performing routine services and are not executing or enforcing the law. When police are executing and enforcing the law, such as stopping a speeder on the highway, then an exception exists that the negligent conduct by the public employee must be willful or wanton, a high burden that makes establishing a case of negligence difficult for a plaintiff.

One issue with the Tort Immunity Act is that is confusing to apply and courts have created the crude distinction that liability rests on the fundamental duty that an officer is performing. An initial case that interpreted the law was McElmeel v. Village of Hoffman Estates. In this case the court granted the village’s motion to dismiss that was upheld on appeal as the court held that the officer was performing a service by responding to a driver that had driven into a ditch. The officer was directing traffic and had allegedly negligently done so and, as a result, the plaintiff was hit by another driver subsequently alleged to be under the influence of alcohol. Another case, Aikens v. Morris, provided further clarification on the distinction but accepted the initial service vs. enforcing law distinction. Ultimately, rulings will depend heavily on the facts. This area of law will continue to evolve as plaintiffs seek clarification on what specific duties fall under the area of service or enforcement.

If you have been injured as a result of police conduct, it is important to seek an attorney immediately.

This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases.

Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were injured from an encounter with a police officer please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.