A Maryland personal injury action may be brought for accidental or reckless conduct, or in some cases, intentional acts. In an April 25, 2019 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a case alleging claims of civil assault and excessive force by the police. After a jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the verdict was appealed.
The case arose out of a traffic stop involving a police officer and a driver. The officer attempted to pull over the driver, but he continued driving for about a mile, making several turns and running a red light before coming to a stop. A video camera recorded the subsequent events.
The driver got out of his vehicle and started walking towards the police car. Reportedly, when the officer opened his door, the driver charged at him. The police officer fired four gun shots at the driver before he was subdued. The driver was taken to the hospital and treated for injuries. He died of other causes later that year. The driver’s wife filed a lawsuit against the police officer on behalf of the estate. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict against the officer on the estate’s civil assault and excessive force claims.
Whether a police officer has used excessive force in violation of Maryland law is judged under the standard of objective reasonableness. Under this standard, a police officer’s actions are measured against how a reasonably prudent officer would respond when faced with the same emergency situation. Deadly force is appropriate only if the officer has sound reason to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others.
On appeal, the court explained that when reliable video evidence is available in a claim of excessive use of force by a police officer, a trial court should not simply adopt the interpretation promoted by one of the parties, but rather, the court should view the facts in the light portrayed by the video. The appeals court also held that, if the material facts of the case are known, the reasonableness of the officer’s actions is a question of law for the court.
The court ruled that the video evidence in the case reliably established the material facts. Viewing the encounter as the officer perceived it, the court noted that the stop was unusual, that the driver’s state of mind was unknown, and that the driver initiated the confrontation and did not stop moving towards the officer when the officer pulled his service gun. The court concluded that, with mere seconds to act, a reasonable officer in the defendant’s position would have found that the driver posed a real and imminent threat of serious physical harm. Accordingly, the court held that as a matter of law, the officer’s use of deadly force to defend himself was objectively reasonable.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland injury attorneys are committed to helping people pursue their legal remedies from those responsible for their losses. We represent accident victims and their loved ones in personal injury and wrongful death claims, medical malpractice suits, premises liability actions, and other injury cases arising out of negligence. Request an appointment with one of our skilled lawyers by calling Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or submitting our contact form online.