Can You Sue the Police?

ELI5: Negligence

America has nearly 700,000 police officers who risk their lives everyday in order to protect and serve. However, with 700,000 people, mistakes will almost certainly happen. Tragically, these mistakes can have serious consequences: citizens have been seriously injured and some have even lost their lives. Most of America’s police officers are individuals who are trying to do good. However, out of 700,000 employees, we know there may be some bad ones. Americans know from news headlines across the country that there are police officers that seem to have abused their power. This has left many with the question: If a police officer has abused their power, is there anything that can be done?


Yes, you can sue an individual police officer who has injured you. For personal injury claims, there are four elements that you need to prove in order to have a successful case. To begin with, you need to prove that the person you’re suing was negligent in some way. One way would be to prove that they had a duty of care toward you. Then, you need to prove that the person you’re suing has somehow violated that duty of care. After you prove the duty of care has been violated, you need to prove that the violation has injured you. Finally, you need to prove that there were damages, either economically (such as medical bills for the injuries) or non-economic such as emotional distress. Though it may seem simple, there are a few obstacles that can make suing a police officer difficult.


Police officers have qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects police officers, and other government officials, from personal injury suits that may result from the official simply doing their job. Part of a police officer’s job may include using physical force in order to apprehend a person who is presenting a danger to others. And, depending on the circumstances, a police officer may need to use additional force in order to protect the nearby citizens, or themselves. In addition, in Utah there is a Governmental Immunity Act which places some pretty strict limits on lawsuits against employees of a governmental entity – such as a police department.


Qualified immunity has a big impact on personal injury claims involving police officers. This is because qualified immunity protects an officer from being found personally liable when they’re doing their jobs. The only exception to this is when an officer violates a clearly established right. Though it sounds simple, determining whether or not a right is clearly established can be a bit of a gray area. This is because it’s not about whether or not your rights were violated, it’s about whether or not your rights were clearly established. Clearly established means that any reasonable officer would have known that you had these rights and the officer you’re suing violated them. Again, though it sounds simple, many of the rights we take for granted are not clearly established due to the fact that laws change so quickly. Therefore, a judge may rule that you had rights, but since the rights weren’t clearly established, the officer cannot be brought to trial.


If you physically harm a police officer, they can personally sue you. After all, police officers are human beings, and they have the same rights as other citizens do. So if a civilian shot a police officer, the officer would be able to sue that civilian and have the same opportunity to present a case to prove negligence and  damages. But, if the civilian who shot the police officer doesn’t have any assets to pay for the damages they caused, it may be difficult for the officer to obtain compensation.


If you’ve been injured by a government official, you definitely need to consult an experienced personal injury attorney. With qualified immunity, the Governmental Immunity Act, debate over clearly established rights, and a wide spectrum of circumstances, it can be difficult to determine whether or not you will be able to file a claim against a police officer. On the other hand, if you are a police officer who has been injured while apprehending a dangerous criminal, Moxie Law Group thanks you for your service. At Moxie Law Group, we fight for the rights of the injured. If you have questions about a personal injury claim, call Moxie Law Group today for a free consultation.

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