We should be able to trust the police to keep us safe. However, situations may arise when an officer uses excessive force, resulting in traumatic injuries or death. 

In these cases, federal law provides a cause of action for the victim or their surviving family members to sue in civil court for damages. These claims are known as Section 1983 claims. 

What Is Excessive Force?

Police brutality claims often involve allegations of the use of excessive force. Excessive force is defined as force above the reasonable force a police officer believes is necessary in a given situation. Excessive force may apply in cases involving arrests, investigatory stops, searches, seizures, and other situations where an officer must use force against a suspect or other person. 

Each case is unique, and the necessary force depends on the facts and circumstances. 

Factors to consider when deciding what would be reasonable in a given situation include, but are not limited to:

  • Did the person pose a threat to police officers or other people?
  • The seriousness of the alleged crime
  • Factors that impact the “rule of common sense”
  • Whether the person was trying to flee or resisting arrest
  • If the person had a dangerous weapon or firearm

The “reasonableness” of the force used is a question for a jury in excessive force cases. The jurors must decide if the force used by the police officer exceeded what the officer reasonably believed was necessary given the circumstances. 

Law enforcement is permitted to use deadly force in some situations. However, using more force than necessary constitutes excessive force. It is a violation of your civil rights regardless of your guilt or innocence of the crime the police suspect you have committed. 

What Is a Section 1983 Claim?

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. §1983) gives citizens the right to sue the government for civil rights violations. A lawsuit based on this federal statute is referred to as a Section 1983 lawsuit. 

For an excessive force claim to apply under this code section, the police officer must have been acting “under the color of the law.” An officer acts under the color of the law when they use the powers vested in them by a government entity. 

Therefore, a Florida police officer must have been acting as a representative of the state, county, or municipality when they violated the victim’s civil rights by using excessive force. 

For the police officer to be liable, the victim must prove:

  • The officer subjected the victim to conduct that occurred under the color of law; and,
  • The conduct deprived the victim of their immunities, privileges, or rights guaranteed by federal law or the constitution. 

In addition to the police officer being liable for damages, a municipality could also be liable in a Section 1983 claim. Suppose the government entity giving the police officer the authority to act under the color of the law has policies and practices that proximately cause constitutional injuries. In those cases, the municipality could also be liable for damages. 

Reasons for holding the government entity liable could include, but are not limited to:

  • Failing to discipline or punish officers for excessive force complaints
  • Implicitly encouraging the use of excessive force
  • Having a deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens
  • Failing to adequately train officers in the use of force
  • Failing to provide additional training related to constitutional rights when an officer exhibits a pattern of constitutional violations

Suing the officer and government entity for excessive force is complicated. Your best chance of a positive resolution is to hire a Clearwater personal injury lawyer with extensive experience handling excessive force claims. 

What Damages Can I Receive in an Excessive Force Lawsuit Under Section 1983?

“Damages” is the term for the award received when you file a personal injury lawsuit. There are three categories of damages you could receive in a Section 1983 claim:

Economic Damages 

These damages represent your financial losses. Economic damages include medical bills, nursing care, out-of-pocket expenses, and personal care. You can also receive compensation for your loss of income, decreased earning capacity, and future lost wages. 

Non-Economic Damages

These damages compensate you for the pain and suffering caused when the officer violated your civil rights by using excessive force. Non-economic damages include physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional distress. You can also receive compensation for permanent impairments, diminished quality of life, and disfigurement.

Punitive Damages 

The court may grant punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was malicious or displayed a reckless indifference to your rights or safety. Excessive force cases may qualify for punitive damages depending on the facts.

Contact a Florida Police Brutality Attorney For Help With a Section 1983 Claim

If you or a family member was injured due to excessive force, talk with a Clearwater police brutality lawyer about your legal options during a free consultation.

We serve throughout Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, and its surrounding areas:

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
1811 N. Belcher Road, Suite I-1
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 787-2500

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Congress Ave Office
2360 Congress Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33763
(727) 591-5610

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
6601 Memorial Hwy Suite 202
Tampa, FL 33615
(813) 686-7588

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
2515 Seven Springs Blvd.
New Port Richey, FL, 34655
(727) 815-8442