Often when people think of wrongful death lawsuits, they picture a fatal accident, perhaps caused by a drunk driver or someone who wasn't paying attention. But sometimes the facts of a wrongful death are much more complicated and negligence can be difficult to prove.
Oddly enough, this is especially true when the death involves not an accident, but intentional harm. Take for example the case of a 33-year-old long-haul truck driver who was fatally shot by a Gilroy, California, police officer in February 2008. Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, the driver was usually able to effectively control his condition with medication. But one night he called relatives after becoming distraught on a trip. They picked him up, but he started acting irrationally in the car and ran off in the dark on Highway 152.
A police officer on patrol found him lying near the road and stopped his car, walked toward the man and pulled out his gun. At that point, the officer got a phone call from a colleague, who stayed on the line while the man got up, lunged at the officer and tried to take his gun, according to the officer. The colleague later said he heard the shots over the phone.
But a motorist who had also stopped to check on the man said both men were standing still when the officer shot the man in the chest. Afterward three other officers arrived, one of whom fired a Taser at the man when he didn't respond to commands.
An eight-member jury found earlier this month that the officer had violated the man's civil rights by using excessive force and failing to provide emergency medical care after the shooting. The man's family was awarded $1.275 million, though that amount could be reduced because the jury also said the man was 50 percent responsible for his own death due to negligence. The family's attorney said that the civil rights violation should prevent such a reduction. The chief of the Gilroy Police Department, meanwhile, says the city is considering an appeal.
The officer was previously cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury, though the man's family still questions why the officer didn't use a Taser or baton to protect himself, if necessary. Instead, he chose to use a lethal weapon on a man with a medical condition -- all without putting down the phone.
Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, "Gilroy to pay $1.275 million in police shooting," Bob Egelko, April 5, 2012
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