Monday, November 24, 2014

Ninth Circuit's Opinion Granting Distress Damages in Officer-Involved Shootings Stands

On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the City's appeal of Chaudhry v. City of Los Angeles. This upholds the Ninth Circuit's ruling allowing pre-death pain and suffering damages in section 1983 claims when the death was caused by a violation of federal law.

In Chaudhry, a jury found a police officer's shooting was unjustified despite the officer testifying the suspect lunged at him with a knife. The jury awarded $700,000 to the suspect's family for wrongful death and $1 million to the suspect's estate for pain and suffering based on an excessive force claim under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. California law prevents a decedent's estate from recovering damages for the decedent's pre-death pain and suffering. Federal law is silent on the issue.

The Ninth Circuit found California's limitation on damages conflicted with section 1983's goals of compensation and deterrence. The Ninth Circuit ruled preventing pre-death pain and suffering damages to a decedent's estate makes it more economically advantageous for the defendant to kill rather than injure. The court held the state-law limitation on damages does not apply in section 1983 claims if the death was caused by a violation of federal law. This ruling greatly increases potential liability for section 1983 defendants.