The Rights of an Innocent Bystander Shot by a Police Officer’s Stray Bullet
November 11, 2013 | Leonard L. Finz, Former NYS Supreme Court Justice
Consider this narrative: Gun in hand, a robber runs out of a jewelry store. Confronted by a police officer on the street, he continues his attempted escape. The cop, gun in hand, orders him to stop. The robber ignores the order as the cop takes up chase. Unable to close in, the cop fires four rounds. Two hit the robber, and two go astray, one hitting a bystander 50 feet away, killing him instantly. The victim’s estate brings an action against the City charging negligence on the part of the officer. The City takes a firm “no pay” position claiming justification based upon a 2010 case decided by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, in a 4-3 decision.
As reported on November 11, 2013 in a New York Times article titled, “Bystanders Shot by the Police Force Face an Uphill Fight to Win Lawsuits”, New York City has adopted a hard-line approach to cases brought by innocent bystanders injured or killed by a police officer’s stray bullet. Given the City’s current attitude, the rights of the innocent victim are severely compromised in that each case will be vigorously defended at trial without any offer to settle being made. Thus, the prospect of an out of court settlement is remote unless the victim, through a highly-experienced personal injury lawyer, can present sufficient evidence to establish that the officer was reckless in firing his weapon- a burden that the average practitioner probably will be unable to meet.
On point, Finz & Finz, P.C. had one such case where an innocent bystander was killed by an officer’s stray bullet. It was only after a fully defended trial that the City, concerned over the possibility of a large jury verdict, finally settled for a substantial sum.
As for the present state of such actions against the City, each case rests upon its own specific circumstances. But given its present posture, the City states that it will fight every significant case thereby creating the absolute need for a plaintiff’s law firm where the level of experience of the innocent bystanders’ lawyer, matches that of the lawyers at Finz & Finz, P.C. a law firm with a proven record of success.
Additional Info: Accidents
Tags: Police Officer, Stray Bullet, Innocent Bystander, damages