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Maryland Court Reviews Wrongful Death Action Arising Out of Police Shooting

A Maryland wrongful death action based on the negligence of police or law enforcement officers generally has a higher burden of proof than a typical negligence claim.  In a September 24, 2020 wrongful death case arising out of a police shooting, the Maryland Court of Special Appeal considered whether summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the police officer.

The defendant in the case attempted to pull over the decedent, who was driving an SUV that matched the description of a vehicle that had eluded the police weeks ago after a high-speed chase.  The decedent sped away, with the defendant following him through a residential neighborhood.  The decedent then got out of the SUV, kicked in the door of a townhouse, and ran upstairs.  The police officer testified that after he ordered the decedent to come down, the decedent rushed down the stairs quickly and aggressively, leading the officer to believe that he was attempting to take his weapon.  The defendant stated that although he fired his weapon at the decedent, the decedent continued down the stairs and grabbed him.  During the struggle, the officer fired several shots, and the decedent ultimately died from a gunshot wound to his chest.

The survivors of the decedent brought a wrongful death claim against the police officer.  The trial court, finding that the officer had acted reasonably, granted judgment in favor of the defendant.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that the issue of reasonableness should have been determined by a jury.

In determining whether a police officer has used excessive force in violation of Maryland law, the court looks to whether the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances.  The plaintiff has the burden to prove that the officer exceeded the level of force an objectively reasonable officer would use under the same or similar situation.  This requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.  The use of deadly force is reasonable only when the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others.

On appeal, the court ultimately found no error with the entry of summary judgment.  The court pointed to the officer’s uncontroverted testimony and the circumstances of the interaction, in which the officer was alone and pursuing a suspect who then attempted to take his weapon.  Concluding that the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable, the appeals court affirmed the judgment.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., we can provide compassionate and honest legal advice after the death of a relative or loved one.  Our dedicated lawyers can assist you in a wrongful death action, medical malpractice claim, and many other personal injury lawsuits arising out of negligence.  Schedule an initial consultation with one of our experienced attorneys by calling Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.

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