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Police Brutality and Wrongful Death Cases November 1, 2015

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. These aren’t just names bandied about by the Black Lives Matter movement. These were lives that were lost due to possible police negligence. While some of these cases have gone to criminal court, others have stagnated or the officers involved have been judged to have acted within their purview.

With uncertain action in some police brutality and police homicide cases, more people are turning to the civil court system to find justice. Because the burden of proof differs between the criminal court system and the civil court system, those harmed by the police, or the families of those fatally shot by officers, have turned to personal injury law for recourse. Knowledgeable New York personal injury lawyers have helped their clients achieve closure by bringing to light injustices perpetrated on their loved ones.

The issue of police brutality has been so prevalent that the city of Baltimore has paid almost $13 million in settlements for police brutality cases since 2011. Wrongful death doesn’t just occur at the hands of the heavily armed, however. Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland both died in police custody—no gunfire was involved in either case. The city of Baltimore has already settled with Freddie Gray’s family while the case against six officers sludges through the criminal system. Sandra Bland’s death has not lead to a criminal indictment for any of the officers the family believes to have been part of her death, however her family has filed a wrongful death suit which a Texas court will hear in January 2017.

A wrongful death case may be easier to prove than a manslaughter or murder case, especially when dealing with alleged police brutality or malfeasance. Part of this harkens back to the differences in the burden of proof mentioned earlier. In a criminal case, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime. In a civil case, however, the plaintiff must only show the defendant’s negligence or liability through a preponderance of the evidence. That means less evidence is needed in civil court than criminal court.

It is important to note, however, that just like the burden of proof differs between civil and criminal court cases, so to do the statutes of limitations. For example, in New York, there is no statute of limitations on a murder case. A manslaughter or homicide case must be charged within five years of the crime. In contrast, a wrongful death suit must be filed within two years of the incident. Because of this discrepancy, it is possible that the families of some victims may end up in civil court before they step foot in a criminal court.

A civil case against a negligent party, whether it’s a police officer or other individual, can help bring closure, as well as pay for any funeral expenses and pain and suffering. However, because of the tight statute of limitations for civil cases, it is important to speak with a New York personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to help ensure you and your family get the justice you deserve. An experienced New York personal injury will help you evaluate the facts in your case and assist you in deciding whether to move forward with a lawsuit.

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