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Maryland Court Upholds Jury Verdict for Plaintiff in Personal Injury Action Against Police Officer

A Maryland personal injury claim may be based on the intentional or negligent conduct of another person.  Bringing a legal action against law enforcement officers for injuries may require specific considerations.  In a June 2, 2020 opinion, the Maryland Court of Appeals reviewed a case brought by the estate of an individual against a city police officer.  The matter had been tried before a jury, which awarded damages to the plaintiff after finding the police officer used excessive force during the encounter.  The Court of Special Appeals subsequently overturned the jury’s finding, and the plaintiff sought review from the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The decedent in the case had been pulled over by the officer after driving on the wrong side of the road.  A surveillance video showed the decedent exiting his vehicle and approaching the officer, but did not show whether the decedent was armed.  Testimony revealed that the officer fired four shots at the decedent, who was unarmed.  The decedent was treated for his injuries but died due to causes unrelated to the incident, and his estate filed the action against the officer on his behalf.

In a Maryland excessive force case, the plaintiff has the burden to establish that the law enforcement officer exceeded the level of force an objectively reasonable officer would use under the same or similar situation.  To determine whether a police officer has used excessive force, the jury must consider circumstances such as the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, whether he was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing, and that law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second judgments in situations that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.  A law enforcement officer may only use deadly force when the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or others.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the issue of whether the force used by the officer was objectively reasonable under the circumstances was a question for the jury to resolve.  After reviewing the record, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the question of excessive force to be considered by the jury.  The court found that the evidence presented at trial could have suggested that the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable, or not, and noted that there was no evidence indicating that the decedent had threatened anyone.  Accordingly, the court held that the Court of Special Appeals erred when it substituted its judgment for the factual findings of the jury.  The decision effectively reinstates the jury verdict and damages award in favor of the plaintiff.

At Foran & Foran, P.A., we can help individuals and their families pursue legal recourse against those responsible for their injuries.  Our Maryland personal injury lawyers represent plaintiffs in actions arising from negligence, medical malpractice, auto collisions, and other accidents.  To set up a consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or submit our contact form online.

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