This article is written by Upasana Sarkar, a student at Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College. This article aims to provide an understanding of civil liability in the US and deals with the types and elements of civil liability. It also analyzes federal civil rights and civil liabilities under the color of law.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
When a person injures another person, either accidentally or intentionally, in that case the injured person can sue him for damages or compensation. A person has the right to obtain redress from the wrongdoer. It is a legal obligation on the part of the wrongdoer to pay for the damages that occurred because of his own fault. The victim has the right to seek remedies from the wrongdoer by filing a suit in civil court. This legal responsibility to compensate the injured person in case of an unlawful injury to that person or his or her property comes under the purview of civil liability. If such cases happen, the United States Court of Federal Claims is entrusted with determining, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the wrongdoer is liable for a breach of civil law. US citizens and organizations, as well as government entities, can be tried for civil liability.
What is Civil Liability
Civil liability is a crucial concept in the US legal system. It is a legal responsibility of an individual or an entity to another person due to an act or omission. It is a legal obligation that binds the responsible party to pay a certain amount of money to the injured party. In this blog article, we will take a look at the landscape of civil liability in the US. We will discuss what civil liability is, the different types of civil liability, examples of civil liability, elements of civil liability, common defenses to civil liability, damages in civil liability cases, the statutes of limitations for civil liability, federal civil rights and civil liabilities under Color of Law.
In other words, civil liability means the liability of a person to make good the loss for the damages that occurred due to his wrongful act or omission. Thus, the objective of civil liability is to provide financial compensation for any losses or damages suffered by the injured party. Civil liability can be imposed through the court system or through contractual agreements.
In the US, civil liability is governed by state laws. Civil liability is mostly a tort or contractual obligation. Every state in the US has its own set of laws regarding civil liability. In order to understand civil liability in the US, it is pertinent to understand the basic principles of civil law as well as the specific state laws that govern civil liability.
If a party causes a breach of duty or violates any law, then they may be held liable for civil liability. The party must be found to have acted in a way that was negligent, reckless, or intentional. If the party is found to have acted with intent, then the party may be liable for punitive damages as well. The quantum of liability will totally depend on the circumstances of the case.
Types of civil liability
There are several different types of civil liability. These include:- negligence, strict liability, product liability, and vicarious liability. They are discussed as follows:-
Negligence is a type of civil liability that occurs when a party has acted in a careless or negligent way and caused harm to another person or entity. All civil wrongs do not come under this provision. It is the plaintiff’s duty to show that the defendant has acted carelessly or negligently where it was the defendant’s responsibility to exercise due care while doing any act and he has failed in it.
- If a person slips and gets injured in a shop due to any kind of spill, then the shop owner can be held liable for having acted carelessly and negligently without taking any proper actions. The customer can file a suit in the Court of Claims for civil liability.
- If a person accidentally hits another person with his car while acting negligently, the injured person can claim compensation for his injury by filing a suit in the Court of Claims.
In the case of Molien v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (1980), the doctor of a hospital wrongfully diagnosed a patient as having syphilis. Then he asked the woman to disclose her disease to her husband. After doing so, their marital relationship was destroyed. So the husband filed a suit for negligence against the hospital for the emotional distress that they faced. The defendant was held liable for negligence as the tortious conduct was directed at the patient and her husband.
Strict liability is a type of civil liability that holds a party liable regardless of whether fault is committed or not by the concerned party. It is a kind of civil liability where a person or an entity is deemed responsible for damages for their acts and products even if they have not acted carelessly or negligently. A person or an entity is held strictly liable in case of injuries that are caused by any hazardous substances or activities.
- If any chemicals are transported from one place to another, and due to some unfortunate incident, the chemicals are spilled and cause civilian casualties, then the entity that was transporting the chemicals will be held strictly liable, even though the entity has taken all the safety measures and did not act negligently. In this kind of situation, the prosecutor does not have to show any kind of negligence or intention of causing harm. He only needs to prove that the plaintiffs have suffered injuries.
- Similarly, if any personal injury is caused by a train accident, then it is the responsibility of the railway operator to compensate the individual for the injury, even though all the safety measures were taken by them to keep the train from derailing. So it is the public administration professionals’ responsibility to see that such incidents do not take place. Otherwise, they will be held strictly liable for the incident.
The doctrine of strict liability first originated in an English case, Rylands v. Fletcher (1868). In the famous case, the defendant got a reservoir constructed by independent contractors over his land to provide water to his mills. The contractors overlooked the old, disused shafts under the site of the reservoir. Then the reservoir was filled with water. It broke open through the shafts and flooded the coal mines of the plaintiff, which were located on the adjoining land. The defendant had no idea about shafts. Hence he had not been negligent. The independent contractors, on the other hand, had been negligent. The House of Lords formulated the rule of strict liability and held the defendant liable. The rule of strict liability states that if a person brings anything dangerous that is likely to cause mischief if it escapes, then the person will be held liable for the injuries or damage caused by its escape. The requirements of the rule are as follows:
- A dangerous object is brought by the defendant.
- It is for non-natural use of the land.
- If it escapes, it will likely cause mischief.
Five defenses were also developed in this case, which are as follows:
- Consent was given by the plaintiff.
- The object was brought for the common benefit of both the plaintiff and the defendant.
- The escape was caused by the act of a stranger.
- Statutory authority.
- It was an act of God.
Product liability is a type of civil liability that holds the manufacturer or seller of a product liable for any harm caused by its products. It is their responsibility to see that the products they sell to consumers do not cause any harm or loss. A manufacturer or seller can become liable under this type of liability if the usage of their products has caused injury or loss to a person or property. Even a government contractor can be held liable if they have been providing faulty goods or services to the public in violation of US laws.
- A manufacturer sold defective products to the vendors without testing or inspecting them. The vendors bought those products from the manufacturer and sold them to the consumers. Due to the negligence of the manufacturer and the vendors, the consumers suffered. The consumers filed a suit in the Court of Claims. It was held that both the manufacturer and the vendor of the defective products are liable to compensate for the injury caused to the consumers due to their defective products. They can be held responsible for product liability if the defective products are not examined and inspected properly by them before selling those products to the consumers, which was necessary for them to do.
- While selling a product, if a manufacturer or a seller promises the consumers to restitute or replace the product in case it is defective or unusable but he does not fulfill his promise, he can be held liable for breach of said warranty.
- If a manufacturer or a seller of a product sells it without disclosing the potential hazards to the consumers and falsely promoting them, and any harm or damage is caused to the consumers, then the manufacturer or seller of the product will be held liable for such misrepresentation.
In the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants (1994), the plaintiff brought a suit against McDonald’s for not giving a warning of the extremely overheated coffee that fell on her lap while she was trying to remove the lid of the cup. It was so hot that she suffered a third-degree burn on her pelvis and underwent skin grafting. She was admitted to a hospital for her serious injury. She was there for eight days, as her pelvis was permanently disfigured from the burn. She was partially disabled for a period of almost two years after that incident. McDonald’s had to pay a fine of $640,000 to her as compensation.
In the case of Whitehead v. Toyota Motor Corp. (1995), the plaintiff drove his truck across the road, where he collided with another vehicle that was coming from the opposite direction. The plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant for strict product liability. He claimed compensation, stating that the injuries that he obtained during the collision were increased due to the defective seatbelt system of the Toyota pickup. The defendant denied the plaintiff’s statement. The defendant used the affirmative defense of comparative fault. The US District Court dismissed the defendant’s contention. Two questions were sent to the US Supreme Court by the federal courts for certification. One was whether the principles of comparative fault could be applied to strict product liability cases, and the other was whether comparative fault principles are applicable to enhanced injury cases. The Supreme Court accepted those questions and gave a positive response.
Vicarious liability is a type of civil liability that holds a party liable for the actions of another party. In vicarious liability, the law imposes liability on a person or an entity other than those who have actually committed the wrong for which the injury or damage is caused. It means that a person is held vicariously liable for the acts of another person.
- If an employee or an agent of the employer does an act that leads to the injury of any other person, then the injured party can sue the employer too, besides filing suit against the employee or the agent. The court can hold the employer vicariously liable for his employee’s or agent’s actions, and he needs to pay compensation for the injury or damage by the sufferer.
- If a child commits any wrong, the parents of the minor may be held vicariously liable for the acts of their child.
In the case of Gregory v. Piper (1829), the defendant wanted to stop the plaintiff from using a path, so he asked his servant to place garbage across the pathway. While doing so, the garbage touched the plaintiff’s property. The defendant was held vicariously liable for the actions of his servant, though he took due care to avoid such a situation.
In the case of Hamlyn v. Houston (1903), a partner of a firm bribed the plaintiff’s clerk to get all the confidential information about his employer and his firm. Though the act was committed by one partner, another partner was also held vicariously liable for the offense.
Elements of civil liability
In order for a party to be held liable for civil liability, certain elements must be present. These elements include:- duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. They are discussed as follows:-
Duty is the legal obligation that binds the responsible party to act in a certain way or to refrain from acting in a certain way. It is a civil concept. It means to do or not to do any particular act. A duty can arise voluntarily from a contract, quasi-contract, or unilateral promise. A duty that arises involuntarily is mainly based on a statute or tort. A legal obligation is created to bind together two or more distinct persons. It can be of various kinds, which are as follows-
- When a contract or an agreement is made, the parties to the contract are bound to perform the contract under contractual obligation.
- When a person has a duty to pay or perform specific acts based on the happening or not happening of an incident, it comes under conditional obligation.
- An obligation that is currently in force comes under current obligation.
- When a duty or an obligation does not end with the death of a person and his successor is bound to perform the obligation, it comes under heritable obligation.
Breach of duty
A breach of duty can be defined as the failure of a party to fulfill its legal obligations to act in a particular manner or to refrain from acting in a particular manner. If a person fails to meet the required standard of care, then a breach of duty takes place. A person can be held liable when the following elements are present and indicate a breach of duty:
- The defendant has to fulfill his duty of care towards the plaintiff.
- The defendant failed to fulfill his obligation.
- The defendant’s breach caused injury to the plaintiff’s life or property.
- The plaintiff has suffered harm or damage due to the breach.
- When a worker leaves a manhole uncovered without any sign and a person falls in it, the worker has breached his duty, which caused injury to that person who fell inside the manhole.
- If a person drives his car without keeping the headlights on and hits a passerby, then the person has breached his duty and caused harm to the passerby.
- It is a person’s responsibility not to drink and drive. If he drinks and drives and any accident takes place, it means that he has breached his duty.
Causation is the link between the breach of duty and the damages suffered by the injured party. If a person is injured due to another person’s or entity’s negligence, then the injured person can claim compensation. The injured person can recover both economic and non-economic damages from the party whose breach of duty caused the injury. The injured person needs to prove duty, breach of duty, and damages.
Illustration:- In case a bus driver tries to overtake a car and, while doing so, the bus hits a bike and the person suffers a grave injury, the bus driver will be held liable. As it was his duty to abide by the rules and not try to overtake a car in a busy street. His breach of duty led to the accident, and the biker got seriously injured.
Damages are basically the losses or harms suffered by the injured party. In civil cases, damages are claimed by the injured party from the wrongdoer. Damages are awarded to the injured party in the form of monetary compensation. Damages are paid if a party breaches a duty or violates the rights of another party. The sum of money includes damages that can be either compensatory damages, which are calculated on the basis of the actual loss suffered by the injured party, or punitive damages, which are given to punish the wrongdoer.
Illustration:- A person accidentally hit a small shop, and all the items in that shop were damaged. The shop owner suffered a huge loss. The person is required to pay compensation to the shop owner for the damages that occurred because of his fault.
Common Defenses to Civil Liability
There are a number of common defenses to civil liability. These include- contributory negligence, assumption of risk, the statute of limitations and comparative negligence. They are discussed as follows:-
Contributory negligence is a defense that is used by the defendant when the injured party is found to have contributed to their own injuries. This defense is used to reduce or eliminate the liability of the responsible party. It occurs when the plaintiff also contributes to his own injury as his conduct falls below a particular standard required for his protection. Both his conduct and the defendant’s fault contributed to the injury that was caused to the plaintiff. Contributory negligence bars a plaintiff from getting compensated as he himself is also liable. Therefore, he cannot recover any compensation from the defendant. It also indicates that the plaintiff could have avoided the injury had he not been negligent.
- A person tried crossing a road without following the traffic rules. A car that exceeded the speed limit, avoiding the rules, hit the person, who got serious injuries to his head and limbs. He filed a suit for compensation. It was held that since the person himself was also not following the traffic rules, he also contributed to his own injury. This is an example of contributory negligence.
- The plaintiff parked his car illegally. The defendant left the bar in a drunken condition with his car. While driving his car, he slammed the plaintiff’s car with his. The plaintiff filed a suit for compensation. But he could not recover any damages as he himself parked his car illegally. So under contributory negligence, he was unable to get any compensation for his loss.
In the case of Butterfield v. Forrester (1809), the plaintiff was riding his horse at a very high speed. While going home, he ran into a pole kept there by the defendant for the purpose of the construction of his house. The plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant. After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the court was of the opinion that the plaintiff could have avoided the pole if he had not been riding recklessly. If he had been careful and exercised some caution by traveling at a reasonable rate, he could have avoided the accident. Therefore, under contributory negligence, the plaintiff was unable to get compensation for the damages from the defendant.
Assumption of risk
Assumption of risk is a defense that is used when the injured party is found to have voluntarily assumed the risk of their injuries expressly or impliedly. It means that the injured party continued the activity even after assuming the risks involved in that dangerous activity. This doctrine can be applied only when the plaintiff has actual and subjective knowledge of the risk involved in the activity and voluntarily engages in it despite knowing it. Therefore, it can be applied only in those cases where the plaintiff has a choice to avoid it and not in cases of additional or unknown dangers that he is not aware of. So if a plaintiff willingly undertakes an activity, knowing about the dangers involved in it, he later cannot claim compensation for the same from the defendant. Voluntarily assuming a risk can either be expressed or implied. Expressed consent is usually obtained through written, verbal, or any other expressed method. Implied consent is mainly associated with sports and games.
- A man decides to skydive. Skydiving is a risky activity as it can crash at any time. The man signed the acknowledgment form, which means that he is aware of the potential danger. While skydiving, the heavy wind started blowing, and it crashed. The man suffered injuries. But in this case, the defendant can take the defense of the voluntary assumption of risk by the plaintiff.
- In a boxing tournament, a person can get injured. A person, while participating, already knows about the harm or injury he can face while boxing from the opponent. This is a case where he impliedly consented by assuming the risk.
In the case of Calouri v. County of Suffolk (2007), a forty-year old student filed a suit against the college community for the injuries that she suffered in a backpacking class. Backpacking was made compulsory as a part of the physical education of the college. The court observed that, as she was new to backpacking, it was the gym instructor’s duty to give her direction. Thus, she could not have assumed the risk involved in the activity.
Statute of limitations
The statute of limitations is a defense that is used when the lawsuit is filed after the time period specified by the statute of limitations. Each state has its own set of statutes of limitations for civil liability. These statutes of limitations lay down the time period in which a lawsuit for civil liability must be filed by the injured party in order to be valid in the eyes of the law. In most states, the time period for limitation is two years from the date of the incident or the cause of action. So, unless the lawsuit is filed within the specified statutory limitation period, then the injured party will not be able to pursue their legal claims. Therefore, it is crucial for the injured party to file their lawsuit as soon as possible in order to protect their legal rights, or else the perpetrator may get away without paying damages because of the statute of limitations. The time period varies depending on the type of claim and the jurisdiction. It exists in both civil as well as criminal causes of action. It starts from the date of injury or when it is discovered until the time period that is specified by the statute of limitations.
Most of the states in the US have abandoned the doctrine of contributory negligence due to its harsh results and adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under this doctrine, the plaintiff can claim some damages for his injuries. The percentage of compensation recovered is reduced where the plaintiff is also at fault for his or her losses or damages. This doctrine is applied only when the fault of the defendant is greater than that of the plaintiff. In other words, if the plaintiff’s fault is greater than the defendant’s, most of the US states bar him from recovering compensation from the defendant. There are three main kinds of comparative negligence, which are as follows-
- Pure comparative negligence: In this type of comparative negligence, the plaintiff is given a certain percentage of the compensation for the fault of the defendant.
- Modified comparative negligence: In this type of comparative negligence, the plaintiff is given compensation only when his or her negligence is equal to or less than the fault of the defendant.
- Slight-Gross comparative negligence: In this type of comparative negligence, the plaintiff is awarded compensation for damages when the plaintiff’s negligence is deemed ‘slight’ and the defendant’s negligence is deemed ‘gross’.
Illustration:- A drunk driver struck a doctor who was walking on the road instead of using the crosswalk. In this case, the doctrine of comparative negligence is applied where both of them are at fault. But the defendant’s fault is greater than that of the plaintiff. So he can recover a certain percentage of compensation that is determined by the Court of Claims.
In the case of Lamborn v. Phillips Pac. Chemical Co. (1978), the appellant, an independent contractor who hauled ammonia products for the respondent, claimed that the respondent had not only failed to provide a reasonably safe place to work but also reasonably safe equipment. As while loading clear ammonia, a wind made ammonia fumes to blow into the face of the plaintiff. His face was not covered with a mask, and so he was momentarily blinded or dazed. So he fell down and permanently injured his heel. The respondent denied his negligence and alleged that the appellant was also liable for contributory negligence. The court observed that the plaintiff was also liable for Widing’s negligence. His fault was 40%, and the respondent’s fault was 60%. So he could only claim 60% compensation from the respondent.
Damages in civil liability cases
In civil liability cases, damages can be either compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages are damages that are awarded to the injured party in order to make them whole. Damages are given to the injured party in the form of monetary compensation. These damages are intended to cover the losses or harms suffered by the injured party. Punitive damages are damages that are awarded to punish the responsible party for their wrongdoing.
Compensatory damages can include expenses like medical expenses, lost wages, compensation for pain and suffering, and emotional distress. The courts sometimes also take into consideration the emotional distress of a person when awarding compensatory damages. Punitive damages can include fines, imprisonment and other forms of punishment.
Federal civil rights
Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 249
According to Section 249 of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009, any act that is illegal that is willfully committed to cause bodily harm or injury or the usage of fire, firearms, or dangerous weapons while attempting to do so is illegal when the crime is committed for the following reasons-
- The crime takes place because of the actual or perceived race, religion, color, or nationality of the person, or
- The crime is done because of the actual or perceived religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or nationality of the person, which will affect interstate or foreign commerce or which takes place within the territorial and federal special maritime limits.
The law imposes a maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment if the case does not involve death or an attempt to kill, or unless it involves kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, or aggravated sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse. In cases of offenses that do not cause death, the statute of limitations is seven years, and in cases of offenses that cause death, there is no statute of limitations.
Deprivation of Rights under Color of Law under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242
According to Section 242 of the Deprivation of Rights, if any person does an act under color of law, statute, regulation, ordinance, or custom that willfully deprives or causes to be deprived a person’s rights, immunities, or privileges that are secured or protected by the US Constitution and laws of the US. It is considered a crime. This statute further prohibits any different kind of punishments, penalties, or pains to an alien or person of a different race or color other than those which are prescribed for its citizens as well.
The law imposes a punishment of maximum one year imprisonment, or a fine, or both, and if the case involves bodily injury or the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, a punishment of maximum ten years imprisonment, or a fine, or both. If it involves death or an attempt to kill, or if it involves kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, or aggravated sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse, the law imposes a punishment of imprisonment for any term of years or for life, or both, or he may also be sentenced to death.
Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 247
- to intentionally damage, or deface, or destroy any religious real property on the grounds of religion, race, or ethnicity of the property, or
- to intentionally obstruct by force, or threat of force, or an attempt to obstruct the enjoyment of another person’s exercise of religious beliefs freely.
If the motive of the crime is related to any religious real property, then a connection with interstate or foreign commerce needs to be proved. If the motive of the crime is related to racial reasons, then the connection need not even be proven.
The law imposes a punishment of maximum one year imprisonment, or a fine, or both, and if the case of bodily injury or use, that includes any public safety officer who performs his duties as a direct or proximate result of conduct that is prohibited by this section, and the violation takes place by means of fire or an explosive, the law imposes a punishment of maximum forty years imprisonment, or a fine, or both, or if the act involves attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, a punishment of maximum twenty years imprisonment, or a fine, or both. If it involves death or an attempt to kill, or it involves kidnapping or attempted kidnapping, or aggravated sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse, the law imposes a punishment of imprisoned for any term of years, or for life, or both, or he may also be sentenced to death.
Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 248
- force or threat of force or obstruction by physical means, or any kind of intentional injury, intimidation, or interference, or attempt to do any of these with a person or class of persons so that the person cannot get or provide reproductive health services;
- force or threat of force or obstruction by physical means, or any kind of intentional injury, intimidation, or interference, or attempt to do any of these with any person who is allowed to legally exercise or seek to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at the place of worship.
- deliberately damages or destroys the property of a facility, attempts to do so as it imparts reproductive health services, or deliberately damages or destroys the property of the place of worship. Any speech, expression, or non- obstructive demonstrations are not considered illegal.
The law imposes a punishment of maximum six months imprisonment, or a fine up to $10,000, or both, if the case does not involve violent obstruction; in case of any bodily injury, the maximum period of imprisonment shall be ten years, and if it causes death, the term of imprisonment shall be for any term of years, or for life.
Federal Explosives Control Statute under Title 18, U.S.C., Section 844(h)
- uses fire or any kind of explosive for committing a felony, he may be prosecuted by the US courts, or
- carries any kind of explosive while committing a felony, he may be prosecuted by the US courts.
While committing a felony, if any kind of deadly or dangerous weapon is used, additional punishment will be given along with the punishment for the felony. The law imposes a minimum of five years and a maximum of fifteen years imprisonment for this kind of offense. If it is committed for a second or subsequent time, then a minimum of ten years imprisonment shall be given, which can extend up to twenty five years.
Criminal Interference with the Right to Fair Housing under Title 42, U.S.C., Section 3631
According to Section 3631 of the Criminal Interference with the Right to Fair Housing, any act is illegal if it is done by the use of force or any threat to use force, or any kind of injury, intimidation, or interference, or any attempt to do so, for violating any person’s housing rights because of his race, color, religion, sex, origin, or status. Some of the housing rights under this statute are as follows-
- Selling, purchasing, or renting a dwelling house;
- A dwelling house’s occupation;
- Financing of a dwelling house;
- To make any contract or negotiate for any of the above rights;
- To apply for or participate in any kind of service, organization, or facility that relates to the sale or rental of dwellings.
This statute makes the use of force, or threat of force, or any kind of intentional injury, intimidation, or interference with any person who assists a class or individual in the exercise of housing rights, illegal.
The law imposes a punishment of maximum one year imprisonment, or a fine up to $1000, or both, and in case of any bodily injury, the maximum period of imprisonment shall be ten years, or a fine up to $10,000, or both, and if it causes death, the term of imprisonment shall be for any term of years, or for life.
Pattern or Practice of Discrimination under Title 42, U.S.C., Section 14141
Pattern or Practice of Discrimination was previously included in a provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It makes the act of any governmental authority or its agent, or anyone acting on that authority’s behalf, who engages in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers or by officials or employees of any governmental agency that is responsible for the administration of juvenile justice or the incarceration of juveniles as illegal because it deprives the rights, privileges, or immunities of a person that are secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
The kinds of misconduct include the following-
- Excessive force used in an arrest
- Discriminatory harassment
- false arrest
- Use of deadly force
- Unlawful arrests or searches
Civil liabilities under Color of Law
Excessive force used in an arrest
Excessive force means force used in excess of what is required by the police officer while arresting any person. A police officer who uses more force than is necessary in an arrest, an investigatory stop, or other seizures can be held liable by the court. In some cases, a police officer can also be held liable if he does not stop another police officer from exercising excessive force.
In the case of Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014), Donald Rickard not only refused to produce his identification but also did not step out of the car at the traffic stop. He led police officers on a high-speed chase. Then he spun out in a parking lot. Though his bumper was flush against a patrol car, he went on using the accelerator. Seeing that, a police officer fired three shots into his car. Still, he managed to drive away, nearly hitting an officer. When the officers saw that he sped away, they fired twelve more shots that struck him and his passenger. The car then crashed, and both of them died from injuries from the crash and gunshot wounds. His minor daughter filed a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 action against the police officers, claiming that they had used excessive force. The police officers were denied qualified immunity by the District Court as their act not only resulted in a violation of the Fourth Amendment but also was contrary to the law established at the time in question. The Sixth Circuit confirmed the District Court’s order. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment, stating that the police officer acted reasonably in using deadly force. They did not use more gunshots than required to end the public safety risk as he tried to drive away.
Use of deadly force under 10 CFR Section 1047.7
The term ‘deadly force’ means the force that is considered by a reasonable person to be likely to cause serious bodily injury or death. A deadly force can only be used under such circumstances where all the lesser means seem to be failing or cannot be reasonably employed. A protective force officer is given the authority to use deadly force under the following circumstances-
- Self-defense: A protective force officer can use deadly force only when he thinks it is absolutely necessary to protect himself from immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury.
- Offenses of a serious nature committed against persons: A protective force officer can use deadly force when he thinks it is absolutely necessary in preventing the commission of any grave offenses against other persons that can cause immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury.
- Nuclear explosive devices or weapons: A protective force officer can use deadly force when it appears reasonable to prevent any kind of theft, sabotage, or unauthorized control of a nuclear explosive device or weapons.
- Special nuclear material or substance: A deadly force can also be used when it is reasonable to prevent any kind of theft, sabotage, or unauthorized control of special nuclear material from an area of a particular site or from a shipment in which Category II or greater quantities are expected or reasonably believed to be present.
- Apprehension: A deadly force can also be used when it appears reasonable to prevent the escape of a person who is believed to
- have committed an offense of such nature as mentioned earlier; or
- use nuclear explosive devices or weapons, or possess a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the protective force officer or any other person.
A protective force officer can use firearms only when it seems absolutely necessary to do so. But he should give a warning before using it, i.e., an order to halt.
False arrest means restraining or detaining a person without any appropriate or justified cause by another person. It means arresting without lawful justification or a valid arrest warrant. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘false imprisonment’, which means wrongfully holding someone against his or her will without reasonable cause. The victim can sue for damages in the case of a false arrest. If a person wrongfully restricts or limits the movement of another person against his or her consent, then the offense of false arrest has been committed by the person.
- ‘A’ locked ‘B’ in her house without ‘B’s consent. This is a case of false arrest.
- A police officer arrested ‘Y’ on the basis of ‘X’s statement as he thought ‘Y’ to be a reasonable suspect. Later, it was proven that ‘Y’ was innocent. This is not a case of a false arrest, as the police officer is authorized to arrest a person if there is any reasonable or justified reason to do so.
Harassment means unwelcome conduct through words or behavior that threatens, injures, intimidates, or demeans a person. Discriminatory harassment means a kind of harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and likewise. It is a kind of harm, injury, or intimidation by way of force or threat of force that:
- intervenes the constitutional or civil rights of a person; and
- is stimulated due to the actual or perceived group identity of that person.
It is mainly a kind of employment discrimination that is violative of the following Acts-
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Liability of federal agents under 42 U.S. Code Section 1983
Civil action for deprivation of rights
If a person, under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any state or territory, or the District of Columbia, subjects or causes to be subjected to any of these, any citizen of the United States, or any other person within its jurisdiction, and is deprived of any rights, privileges, or immunities granted by the Constitution and laws, then he shall be liable to the injured party. The injured party can hold the person accountable if his constitutional rights are violated. An action cannot be brought against a judicial officer for any act or omission done by him acting in a judicial capacity unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.
In the case of Monroe v. Pape (1962), police officers in Chicago broke into the apartment of the plaintiff. The plaintiff and his wife were forced to stand naked in their room while thirteen officers ransacked their home. The plaintiff was then taken into custody for ten hours, where he was interrogated about a recent murder. The police officers did not have a warrant to search his place. He was also not allowed to contact a lawyer. It was observed that the police officers could be held liable for the unreasonable search and seizure, which was a deprivation of rights for the plaintiff.
Police officers’ duty while carrying out an arrest
The judges of the court see whether the police officer considered the following factors or not while violating the federal rights of the person. Those factors are as follows-
- He was on duty.
- He was wearing a police uniform.
- He had used police equipment like handcuffs and likewise.
- His badge was on his uniform while carrying out an arrest.
Liability of failure to train police officers
If a police officer is terminated from the department for his refusal to perform a specific act for which he has not been trained and which has the potential to violate the constitutional rights of a citizen, then the police department would be held liable. The entire liability for the failure to train and supervise the police officer will be upon the department.
In the case of Ohio v. Harris (1989), the US Supreme Court observed that the tasks assigned to police officers must be such that they are previously trained to carry them out so that the constitutional rights of the citizens are not violated. They should not perform those tasks for which they have not been trained, and they cannot be terminated on the ground of their refusal to perform an act. In cases where a department does not have anyone who could perform a particular task, the department should refer that matter to other public or private agencies competent to perform the act without violating the constitutional rights of the citizens.
Duty of other government officials
Other than the police officer, there are other state actors who can be sued for violations of civil rights. Any person who is acting under the color of law in their role as a prison officer, jailor, election official, or likewise can be held liable for violating the civil rights.
Immunity means that a person is exempt from any liability, punishment, or legal action that would have otherwise been applied. Though it has its origins in the common law, it is codified in various legal codes and statutes. The court can grant immunity in both civil and criminal cases.
In conclusion, it needs to be reiterated that civil liability is a very important concept in the US legal system. Civil liability is a legal liability encumbered by a responsible party for damages caused by its wrongful act or omission. It is a legal obligation that binds the responsible party to pay a certain amount of money to the injured party. In civil cases, the standard of burden of proof is lower as compared to criminal liability cases.
If you have been injured due to another’s negligence or recklessness, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A qualified attorney can help you understand your rights and the legal process. They will guide you properly. They can also help you determine if you have a valid claim and help you seek the compensation you deserve.
What are the things that need to be proved for civil liability?
Civil liability means the defendant’s liability to make good the losses or damages of the plaintiff that took place due to the defendant’s fault. The defendant needs to pay compensation or monetary damages, as the jury or the judge decides. A few things that need to be proved before claiming compensation are as follows-
- Burden of proof: In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant is liable for his or her loss. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff.
- Breach of contract: Most of the civil cases filed in the US Court of Claims arise out of disputes between parties due to breach of contract.
- Intentional torts: Sometimes, the plaintiff suffers because of the defendant’s intentional acts. The intentional acts can be misrepresentation, fraud, defamation, and employment discrimination.
- Negligence: Civil action also arises due to the defendant’s fault. When the plaintiff suffers damages or losses due to the defendant’s negligence, he files a suit for compensation in the Court of Claims.
What are compensatory damages under US law?
Compensatory damages are those for which the court awards damages that are equivalent to the loss suffered by the plaintiff. In cases where the plaintiff’s rights are violated, he suffers no loss or damage. In those cases, the court grants only nominal damages. While calculating compensatory damages, the courts take into account the fair market value of the damaged product or property that is destroyed. Sometimes, the courts also take into consideration the emotional distress that a person faces due to the damages of product or destruction of property.
What is an affirmative defense?
Affirmative defense is a type of defense where the defendant introduces evidence to establish his credibility so that even if it is found that he committed the act, he will not be liable to pay compensation for the plaintiff’s loss. Some examples of affirmative defenses are self-defense, insanity, necessity, entrapment and likewise.
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